As one might imagine, a Marriage and Family Therapist will see many couples choosing not only to repair and rebuild their marriages, but many also come to end their marriages. Sometimes we are privileged to meet with both parties and help them navigate a safe dissolution and help craft healthy co-parenting plans. Oftentimes, though, we are only meeting with one half of the partnership. While this is immensely helpful and more often than not, extremely necessary, there usually comes a time where the client will ask if the therapist should be sharing some of what is discussed in therapy sessions with their attorney.
This is that tough moment where thinking very far ahead is the best practice. As we know, and as we need, attorneys have a special set of skills to do their jobs. They are great at seeing angles and weaknesses that can be exploited for the benefit of their clients, even if it is at the expense of the once-partner. Therapists have skills too, which are similarly protected by the laws of privacy and confidentiality (which alarmingly can be forgotten by attorneys on occasion). The therapy room is a place for clients to share deep personal feelings, beliefs, to work through troubling scenarios and to ultimately be a safe harbor in a stormy sea. But what does not work is when the sacred aspect of therapy gets exploited in the court arena.
The law is all about black and white while therapy is often about challenging and shattering rigid black and white in lieu of gray. Gray doesn’t sit well in courts. See the problem here? Let’s just say it, courts and therapists just don’t mix. Nor do the principles of what makes each unique and necessary, and good, either. I deeply admire so many attorneys and what they do. In the divorce process, so fraught with pain and confusion, there needs to be a place that is safe and shielded from the tumult of the process, and that is the therapy room. When the context of therapy sessions is scrutinized by attorneys it can rupture the safety that is so essential during that time. I cannot risk having a client’s confidence in therapy become battered due to what an opposing counsel may choose to focus on or take out of context regarding their private therapy sessions. Nor can I risk having the therapist perceived as weak or wrong or ineffective due to opposing counsel’s tactics. And when I explain this to my clients I often see mixed emotions. I see some relief that I will keep my boundary and protect them, but also some sadness or regret that what they learn or share that feels good to them won’t be shared in court, too.
Often the request to break confidentiality is about the client’s perception of either the therapist’s skill at explaining or encapsulating ideas, or the fear and dread of having to do it themselves. At the end of the day, it is the client’s divorce and it is important that they be the ones to expose or divulge and not have the therapist as a scapegoat if things don’t feel so good later.
Thinking far ahead is essential because one cannot sit with the good feeling of today’s session and hope that it is the piece that gets to shine in the courtroom. Unfortunately, when confidentiality is waived, all of the information about all of the sessions is now open and that may be hard for clients to remember while mired in the divorce process. I always recommend that every client read the book “Crazy Time” to help them feel less “crazy,” to better see their progress and to help them gauge the events yet to come. And, to help them keep their privacy and privilege confidential.