Ethical Issues in Marital and Family Therapy

Topics: Family therapy, Psychotherapy, Ethics Pages: 12 (3693 words) Published: December 24, 2010
Ethics and Standards of Professional PracticePSYC-8705-6|
Final PaperEthical Issues in Family and Marital TherapyHealth Psychology Program| |
Denise A. Bolden-Little|


Due to the extremely sensitive nature of marital and family therapy, it is imperative that therapists engage in the ethical, competent treatment of their clients. There are three aspects of marriage and family therapy research that makes it unique from other research fields: 1) multiple family members are involved; 2) it involves extremely sensitive information; and 3) it is performed in conjunction with therapy. According to Hohmann-Marriott (2001), because of these aspects as well as the researcher’s responsibility to conduct efficient research and to promote client’s welfare, specific guidelines for ethical marriage and family research were prescribed.

Guidelines for Ethical Marital and Family Research

The primary guideline for the conduction of ethical marriage and family research is to minimize risk to participants. With this injunction in mind, it is the responsibility of the researcher to conceive all possible risks for the participants; and then to make every reasonable effort to minimize those risks. These potential risks of harm may be physical, mental or emotional. Also, after the research is complete, it is imperative that the participants are debriefed to ensure that no unforeseen harm has occurred to the participants; and if it has, measures can be taken to mitigate damage. Furthermore, researcher should consider the sensitive nature of the family’s private lives and how their family life impacts self-esteem (Hohmann-Marriott, 2001).

Next, it is critical that research design is reviewed by an objective, qualified professional prior to the study being implemented (Hohmann-Marriott, 2001). The professional should be knowledgeable about both the legal and ethical ramifications of the proposed research. The reviewers are mainly advocates for the participants, but also are interested in facilitating researchers with getting their study underway. Balancing these two objectives can prove challenging at times for reviewers. Hohmann-Marriott (2001) states that obtaining informed consent is crucial for researchers. Informed consent literally means that the participant has been informed of the proposed research, and has consented to be a participant. The informed consent document contains four elements: 1) a statement of voluntary participation; 2) a statement about potential risks of the study; 3) a description of the research study; and 4) a statement of confidentiality and its exceptions. Special ethical consideration of family and marital research is dealing with minors and other individuals who may not be able to consent to participation. It is crucial for the researcher to inform family members, who have consented, that they are not obliged to discuss other family members – especially if it causes them discomfort.

While the use of some deception may be necessary to obtain unbiased results, it is essential to understand that deception can also be unethical and may yield inaccurate results, too. According to Hohmann-Marriott (2001), the researcher should use deception sparingly because it is unfair to the participants. Deception provides participants with “misinformed consent,” and eliminates their autonomy. Additionally, marital and family researchers should account for the vulnerability of this unique population. Of the utmost importance is the realization that the participants approached the researchers for assistance with personal or familial issues.

Another guideline for ethical marriage and family research is ensuring that all participants receive treatment. In other fields of research, it is common to designate an experimental group and a control group. In this method of research, the control group is often given a placebo (denied treatment). Due to the vulnerability and the...

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