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Can You Keep a Secret?

A Story of How One Therapist Changed Her Mind About Keeping Secrets

Evan Imber-Black • 8/19/2019

By Evan Imber-Black - Decades ago, a family walked into one therapist's office and utterly destroyed her beliefs about keeping secrets.

Daily Blog

Ghosts in the Therapy Room

The Systematic Impact of Family Secrets

Evan Imber-Black • 5/1/1993

Secrets can grow like weeds through the generations, sending unexpected tendrils into every corner of a family's life. They require at least avoidance, at worst outright lies that can become a habit, branching into seemingly innocuous areas until whole dimensions of life are off-limits to spontaneous talk. Secrets shape not only relationships, but inner lives. "If you knew, you would not accept me,"

think the secret-keepers, while those kept in the dark grow worried and confused: "Something's wrong, I'm not supposed to notice, and it must be my fault."

When a family with a secret walks into a therapy session, the heaviness is palpable. The secret haunts the room like a ghost, looking over everyone's shoulder, a tense and hovering presence. Everyone waits for the other shoe to drop. When secrets are skillfully uncovered, the truth can make people free. And yet for years the subject of secrets was almost a secret within family therapy itself.

When I was trained as a family therapist in the early 1970s, nobody taught me much about secrets, beyond a handful of caveats. Effective inquiry into secrets requires a focus on content as well as relationship, and at that time family therapists were in a broad-brush revolt against Freud, who specialized in exca vating secrets. The book-lined offices of the individual therapists who followed him were repositories of secrets, much like the religious confessionals of earlier times. We wanted no part of that old role.


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Can You Keep a Secret?

A Story of How One Therapist Changed Her Mind About Keeping Secrets

Evan Imber-Black • 8/19/2019

By Evan Imber-Black - Decades ago, a family walked into one therapist's office and utterly destroyed her beliefs about keeping secrets.

Daily Blog
Page 1 of 1

Ghosts in the Therapy Room

The Systematic Impact of Family Secrets

Evan Imber-Black • 5/1/1993

Secrets can grow like weeds through the generations, sending unexpected tendrils into every corner of a family's life. They require at least avoidance, at worst outright lies that can become a habit, branching into seemingly innocuous areas until whole dimensions of life are off-limits to spontaneous talk. Secrets shape not only relationships, but inner lives. "If you knew, you would not accept me,"

think the secret-keepers, while those kept in the dark grow worried and confused: "Something's wrong, I'm not supposed to notice, and it must be my fault."

When a family with a secret walks into a therapy session, the heaviness is palpable. The secret haunts the room like a ghost, looking over everyone's shoulder, a tense and hovering presence. Everyone waits for the other shoe to drop. When secrets are skillfully uncovered, the truth can make people free. And yet for years the subject of secrets was almost a secret within family therapy itself.

When I was trained as a family therapist in the early 1970s, nobody taught me much about secrets, beyond a handful of caveats. Effective inquiry into secrets requires a focus on content as well as relationship, and at that time family therapists were in a broad-brush revolt against Freud, who specialized in exca vating secrets. The book-lined offices of the individual therapists who followed him were repositories of secrets, much like the religious confessionals of earlier times. We wanted no part of that old role.


Magazine Article
Page 1 of 1
Evan Imber-Black, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Families and Health and a faculty member at the Ackerman Institute for the Family.She has authored and edited several books, including Families and Larger Systems (Guilford); Rituals in Families and Family Therapy, Revised Edition (edited with Janine Roberts & Richard Whiting - W.W. Norton); Rituals for Our Times (written with Janine Roberts - Jason Aronson); and Secrets in Families and Family Therapy (W.W. Norton); The Secret Life of Families (Bantam).