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5 Ethical Dilemmas Faced By Marriage and Family Therapists

5 Ethical Quandaries for MFTs

  • Family Versus Individual Members
  • Excluding Family Members
  • Confidentiality
  • Manipulative Therapeutic Strategies
  • Personal Values Versus Ethics

More and more mental health professionals are directing their attention towards practicing marriage and family counseling but this choice comes with several ethical dilemmas that may arise. All therapists must adhere to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapist’s code of ethics, but some of these issues get blurry when it comes to counseling multiple people at once.

Related resource: Top 30 Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Online Degree Programs

Family Versus Individual Members

A marriage and family therapist must build a relationship with each member while simultaneously considering the perspectives of each individual. In marriage and family counseling, it may become difficult for the therapist to decide between what’s best for an individual and what’s best for the family or couple as a whole. Not all solutions will be beneficial to each member, even though each member is facing the same problem. The individual may feel victimized if the therapist chooses the family over them and vice versa.

Excluding Family Members

Many ethical issues arise when it’s time to decide which members of the family should be included in therapy and counseling sessions. It is often debated whether or not is ethical to treat a family without all of its members present. This can also so be greatly influenced by voluntary participation. If a member of the family simply does not wish to participate in the sessions, they can’t be forced. At the same time, if a therapist feels that it is better for the family to not include a particular family member, it is still a very controversial decision.


The American Psychological Association explains that psychologists can only disclose private information without consent if it is required by court order, the patient is being harmed, or the patient is causing harm to others. When there are secrets among family members, some of the members may be aware while others may be intentionally kept in the dark. Ultimately, keeping these secrets confidential creates ethical issues with choosing to serve the family or the individual. Some therapists think that it is crucial to expose a secret to the rest of the family members if it could possibly jeopardize the family as a whole.

Manipulative Therapeutic Strategies

It’s the therapists’ job to have control of their sessions which naturally involves manipulating people in order to influence change or growth. It is up to the therapist to decide when it is appropriate to use this manipulative power. There are often be times when deception is the easiest or most effective course of action but it may not be seen as ethical. Some clients are incredibly rebellious or particularly resistant to therapy and the only way to treat them is through manipulation. The therapist is responsible for choosing whether or not it is necessary to deceive family members, even if it’s by simply omitting information.

Personal Values Versus Ethics

Objectivity is crucial when it comes to his career and therapists must consider the personal values of their clients and be aware that they may not always line up with ethical values. This may also mean that the client’s welfare is not protected because they’re falling outside of the line of ethics. The therapist may have to decide if they will help to steer their clients towards making ethical decisions or their personal values.

The rising popularity in this field will require therapists to carefully consider the ethical dilemmas that they may face. As times change, family and marriage therapists will likely face more and more different types of ethical dilemmas but they can be handled efficiently with the proper preparation.