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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Michael Alan Jansen
Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology
Title: Therapists’ Handling of Secrets between Partners in Couple Therapy
Dr. Alan Hovestadt, Chair
Dr. Gary Bischof
Dr. Peter Northouse
Date: Thursday, October 25, 2007 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
3306 Sangren Hall
This study examines couple therapists’ policies, procedures and perspectives regarding secrets between partners in couple therapy. The appropriate handling of these secrets by therapists is necessary to avoid legal, ethical and therapeutic dilemmas. This is particularly true when the secret involves contentious or potentially dangerous material such as infidelity, divorce, illness, paternity and HIV/AIDS infection.
Specifically, this study explores therapists’ approach to handling secrets and counseling practices related to secrets such as the level of informed consent concerning confidential information and the practice of obtaining written consent to divulge information. The study assesses the practice skills of therapists in handling secrets related to issues of infidelity, divorce, illicit drug use/abuse and HIV/AIDS. The study also investigates the types and frequency of secrets commonly experienced in the clinical practice of couple therapy, as well as the frequency with which couple therapists encounter ethical or legal repercussions related to the ineffective handling of secrets.
One thousand clinical members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy from of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas were randomly recruited to participate in a 38-question self-administered paper and pencil mail survey constructed by the researcher inquiring about their couple therapy practices, policies and perspectives related to secrets. Much of the data collected is descriptive in nature, although between-groups analyses (ANOVAs) were conducted to explore any significant differences between therapists based on experience with regard to: 1) the approach couple therapists use to handle secrets, 2) the amount of planning put into handling secrets, 3) the level of informed consent provided to clients, and 4) the level of obtained written consent. Statistical analyses were also conducted to explore any relationships between the approach used by therapists to handle secrets, the number of legal/ethical problems encountered and whether continuing education courses in confidentiality law increase the likelihood of a therapist’s adherence to state laws/statutes, particularly as they pertain to the handling of secrets related to positive HIV-status. Finally, a Pearson correlation was administered to determine if the frequency with which therapists see partners individually in couple therapy is related to therapist experience.