Clinician's Digest

Clinician's Digest

By Garry Cooper

November/December 2008

Louisa confides to her couples therapist that she had an extramarital affair last year and asks him not to divulge this to her husband Frank. Although therapy has been progressing, Louisa's revelation troubles her therapist. Does Frank have a right to know? By not disclosing, is the therapist participating in secret-keeping and aligning himself with Louisa against Frank? Writing in the July American Journal of Family Therapy, a group of Brigham Young University researchers say that surveys of marriage and family therapists indicate that up to 96 percent of therapists would comply with the request of an unfaithful spouse.

The trio, Mark Butler, James Harper, and Ryan Seedall, suspects that most of those therapists were thinking more about the ethics of confidentiality than the principles of effective therapy. They argue, however, that if they were more concerned with good couples therapy, they'd focus instead on moving the unfaithful partner toward disclosure.

Butler, Harper, and Seedall's viewpoint mirrors the attachment perspectives of therapists like John Bowlby and Susan Johnson, who hold that affairs are corrosive, even antithetical, to intimacy. From this perspective, they insist, there's no such thing as a harmless affair. The Brigham Young trio also argues from the ethical position that each person in an intimate relationship has the right to choose the relationship's boundaries and limits, and that such choices depend upon knowing all relevant…

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