In addition to the usual confidentiality consideration, couples therapy has additional layers of ethical and privacy concerns. In joint sessions, both partners need to feel safe in expressing their innermost thoughts and feelings. Your therapist needs to have the confidence and skill to help you feel comfortable exploring your issues thoroughly.
For individual sessions, conducted as part of therapy, your therapist needs to be explicit with you about what the limits of confidentiality are. For example, what steps will be taken if, in an individual session, there is revealed infidelity in the relationship, or addictive behaviours, or risk of harm to self or others?
Each therapist will have their own process for managing these issues.
I explain confidentiality from the outset of therapy and you will each have an opportunity to ask questions to ensure you are completely clear about how your private information is managed in either the joint sessions or the individual sessions.
In my sessions, I offer each person confidentiality in their individual session. Having said that, secrets in a relationship are widely recognised to negatively impact therapy outcomes.
Private information which I think would be useful to raise in the joint sessions will be discussed with you in your individual session.
Experience finds that relationship treatment is less effective when important information relevant to the couple’s functioning is left unsaid; particularly where withholding this information may impact subsequent conversations about the relationship. Where you have concerns about bringing potentially distressing information to the joint session, I will work with you to find a way that is compassionate, non-blaming, and ultimately helpful in achieving your treatment goals.
I will never force an individual to disclose information and I am bound by the APS Code of Ethics to maintain confidentiality and privacy within the limits of the law.
In terms of what you tell your partner about your individual sessions during couples therapy (or any adjunct individual therapy you have with your own therapist) – I leave that to you to decide.
I do, however, strongly encourage partners to avoid digging for information about the other’s session.
Everyone is entitled to their privacy and a healthy relationship is based on mutual respect. This means respecting each other’s personal boundaries through not overtly (or covertly) coercing your partner to sharing more than they are comfortable with.