Imagine that you are a professor teaching a psychology ethic…

Imagine that you are a professor teaching a psychology ethics course and you have to decide on a hypothetical case that you will use to educate your students for a couples and family therapy learning module.

Title: Ethical Considerations in Couples and Family Therapy: A Case Study Analysis


In the field of psychology, ethics play a crucial role in guiding the practice of therapists and ensuring the well-being of their clients. Particularly in couples and family therapy, a unique set of ethical challenges arise due to the intricate dynamics and complex interplay among multiple individuals. As an educator of psychology ethics, it is fundamental to present a hypothetical case that encapsulates these unique ethical considerations for students in a couples and family therapy learning module. This case study aims to explore the ethical dilemma faced by a therapist, Dr. Jane, when treating a family dealing with marital conflict and issues of child custody.

Case Study: The Anderson Family

Dr. Jane is an experienced couples and family therapist who has been practicing for over a decade. She recently received a referral from the court to provide therapy to the Anderson family. The Andersons consist of Lisa, the biological mother, John, the biological father, and their two children, Anna (14 years old) and Ethan (10 years old). The family has been involved in a contentious divorce and child custody battle, revolving around allegations of parental neglect and abuse.

During the initial assessment session, Dr. Jane notices that Lisa and John cannot converse without arguing and are seemingly unable to communicate effectively. It becomes apparent that their inability to communicate disrupts their children’s emotional well-being. Anna has been struggling academically and exhibits signs of increased anxiety, while Ethan seems to withdraw from social activities and displays behavioral problems at school.

Therapeutic Goals and Challenges

The primary therapeutic goal for Dr. Jane in this case is to assist the Anderson family in resolving their communication issues and improving their co-parenting skills. However, several ethical challenges in couples and family therapy arise in this context.

1. Confidentiality and Multiple Clients

In regular individual therapy, confidentiality is a core ethical principle. However, in couples and family therapy, as several clients are involved, maintaining confidentiality becomes complex. Dr. Jane must ensure that all family members understand the limits of confidentiality and discern how to balance individual issues against the needs of the entire family unit. Finding ways to establish trust while respecting individual privacy is crucial in this case.

2. Competence and Training

Working with families in high-conflict situations necessitates specialized training and expertise. Dr. Jane must possess the necessary knowledge and skills related to couples and family therapy, including an understanding of child psychology and dynamics within the family system. Recognizing her own limitations and seeking appropriate consultation and supervision from experienced colleagues is imperative to provide effective therapy.

3. Impartiality and Objectivity

As a therapist, Dr. Jane must approach the Anderson family’s case with objectivity and without personal bias. During a contentious child custody battle, it is common for the therapist to be enlisted by one parent to advocate for their perspective. However, maintaining an objective stance and prioritizing the best interests of all family members is vital to uphold ethical standards and ensure impartiality.

4. Informed Consent and Voluntary Participation

In couples and family therapy, obtaining informed consent from all family members becomes a complex issue. Dr. Jane must assess each family member’s capacity to provide informed consent separately, taking into account their age, maturity, and level of understanding. Moreover, ensuring voluntary participation is essential to prevent coercion or undue influence, especially in the context of a court-referred case like the Anderson family.


Ethical considerations in couples and family therapy require therapists to navigate various challenges while prioritizing the well-being of all family members. This hypothetical case study provides a platform for students in a couples and family therapy learning module to critically analyze and discuss these ethical dilemmas, fostering a deeper understanding of the complex nature of ethical decision-making in this domain. By exploring the nuances of confidentiality, competence, impartiality, and informed consent, students can develop essential skills in ethical reasoning and better prepare themselves for the ethical challenges they may encounter in future practice.