One of the most classic issues that is dealt with in marriage and family therapy, specific to couples counseling, is the issue of disclosure and nondisclosure, or confidentiality. The case study I will be discussing presents the issue of one client in couples counseling disclosing to the therapist that they are having an affair which the other client in therapy does not know about. There has been large debate on what a therapist should and should not do in this situation.
As a future counselor, this student believes that ethical issues of confidentiality such as the one in this case should be dealt with on a case by case basis. The number one priority a therapist must keep in mind when considering how to approach this situation is the effect of the information on each client, the therapist themselves and the therapeutic process as a whole. This specific cases is one in which the couple client is in a monogamous relationship and have expressed the wish not to have partners shared or share themselves with others.
In this case a middle aged married cougar, Bonnie, goes on a business trip to Vegas during which she becomes sexually involved with a young man, Fernando. Her relationships with Fernando lead to a sexual experience with multiple partners at the same time, also known as group sex or an orgy. When Bonnie returns, she continues to have an online webcam affair with Fernando in while she is at work. Bonnie and her husband Clyde have come to counseling on Clyde’s request because he feels that Bonnie is distant and has been distancing herself from him.
At the end of one session the Bonnie tells Clyde to go out of the office so that he can set up their next appointment. She then proceeds to close the door and informs the counselor that she is currently having an affair and that Clyde does not know about it. The therapist is now faced with the dilemma to disclose or not disclose this information to the Clyde. In the case, it is an ethical dilemma of confidentiality which must be addressed. The question which the therapist must answer for this case is: “Is the divulgence of the secret about the affair conducive to the therapeutic process?
This student believes that the answer to this question will give any counselor in a similar situation their answer as to whether confidentiality may be breached or not. If the answer is yes, that sharing the secret of the affair will be conducive to the therapeutic process and in solving the clients’ problems, then the therapist should highly encourage the cheating spouse to divulge the information either immediately or very soon after the information has come to light in order to aid in the therapeutic process.
Counselors can do this by suggesting a timeline in which the cheating spouse should inform their spouse of the affair, or create an opportunity for disclosure during a future session. If the answer is no, that the sharing of the information about the affair is not conducive or will harm the therapeutic process, then the therapist should not divulge this confidential information to the other spouse and must wait for the cheating spouse to divulge the information in their own time or to see the cheating spouse individually focusing on divulging the information of the affair to their spouse to better assist the relationship.
When a client will not disclose information of the affair to their partner, this leaves therapy in stalemate situation. Although the client may feel that divulging the information will worsen the relationship, for therapy to move on the information must be shared to start the process of healing the relationship. Part of the therapeutic process is to deal with feelings such as guilt, anger, trust, the damage that may be caused in other relationships like work or children.
Some more severe feelings like depression, suicidal tendencies, lack of concentration, lack of sexual desire, and even physical illness and abandonment (Corley & Schneider, 2002). All these emotions and ideologies are part of the therapeutic process and must be taken into consideration when the partner discloses the affair and why they may not want to disclose the information. Research has shown that letting the cheating partner divulge information at their own pace could lead to a better results throughout therapy and actually detour divorce and instead lead to healing in the relationship.
According to Schneider, Corley, & Irons, (1998), over 80% of partners reported a better result during therapy when they felt they were able to tell their partner at the right time. Research from Schneider, Corley, & Irons, (1999), concluded that even though initially partners who were victims of a cheating partner said they would leave their partner at the time of disclosure, the majority of them found great success through continuing the therapeutic process and did not actually leave the relationship. There are ethical codes in place that support this information.
The ACA code of ethics (2005) states that a counselor must first define “the client” so that confidentiality is not broken and disclosure between the partners and the counselor. This means that if the counselor defines “the client” as the couple then whatever information is told to the counselor by either may be shared by the counselor to the other partner. However, the AAMFT (2011) states that the counselor, during times of couples, may not share information between partners when information is shared outside of couples counseling, without a signed release of information.
The AAMFT (2011) also states that each individual has their own right to confidentiality, even during couples counseling. This brings into light a contradiction in the code of ethics counselors follow. According to the majority of counseling clinics and organizations in my area, LCPC’s and LPC’s follow the ACA code of ethics, however, the LMFT’s follow the AAMFT code of ethics and the ACA code of ethics. For LCPC’s and LPC’s the ethical case study is resolved by first defining “the client” as the couple, two individuals, as one client.
For an LMFT this becomes much harder because they cannot define the client as such and instead meet follow the ethical guideline that each individual in the relationship has their own right to confidentiality. A counselor in the state of Idaho, sex therapists falls in the category of a LMFT thus following the AAMFT code of ethics is essential. For the case of Bonnie and Clyde, this future counselor would, and must, keep the information confidential from Clyde until Bonnie either feels the need to share or signs a release of information so that it can be shared in the counseling session by the therapist.
Following the three questions in which a therapist should follow, this future therapist would answer each one as follows: 1) Not sharing the information will cause further distortion in the relationship leading to possible disassociation of each partner causing possible divorce and further emotional distress for each client. 2) Not sharing the information causes the therapeutic process to be ineffective and lead to no results and no progress within therapy. This would lead to further strain on the relationship and distrust and lack of confidence within therapy for the therapy and therapist. )
Not sharing the information will lead to therapist being obstructed in the therapeutic process causing either a slip of information thus breaking confidentiality causing a possible report to the licensure board, or frustration from the therapist to be directed at the clients, leading to further disruption and obstruction in therapy. As this future counselor looks and evaluates the answers given, the conclusion becomes clear resulting in the therapist postponing further sessions indefinitely until the partners come to an agreement on the issue at hand and the information of the affair is shared and known by both clients.