Is It Ethical for My Therapist to Work with My Ex and Not Tell Me?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

Several years ago, my wife began seeing a therapist. After a year, she asked that I join her for a session. Afterward, I began seeing the same therapist frequently on my own and periodically with my wife (we were having marital issues). After about nine months of this, my wife terminated her relationship with the therapist because she didn’t feel her voice was being heard. She felt the therapist was constantly preaching patience and taking my “side” on most issues.

I continued to see the therapist for what remained of our marriage (about a year) and beyond and indeed still see her to this day. I just found out that my now ex-wife (we’ve been divorced four months) has reengaged her relationship with this same therapist. Obviously, the divorce is still fresh, but I’m feeling a lot of emotions here and I’m frankly not sure they are justified. I feel betrayed. At a minimum, I think the therapist should have told me that she had taken on my ex as a client again. I also feel uncomfortable moving forward using the same therapist as my ex. Am I justified in these feelings? —Untold Anger

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Dear Untold,

Your question raises a number of concerns. The short answer is that your therapist is ethically bound NOT to let you know she is working with your ex-wife. Part of client confidentiality includes not sharing the identity of a person in therapy with another person without the explicit permission of that client.

That said, the way your relationship with this therapist evolved sounds messy. The first moment that may have been confusing was when your wife’s individual therapist also became your individual therapist and also worked with the two of you as a couple. When a therapist works with multiple members of a family system, it is essential that boundaries are clear and all parties are comfortable with the situation. Exploring the benefits and risks prior to engaging in the work is essential. Checking in regularly to ensure everyone’s needs are being met is also important. Working with individuals and working with them as a couple can be beneficial at times, but it also runs the risk of one party feeling as if the therapist is more aligned with their partner and takes their side.

In individual therapy, the alignment between person in therapy and counselor is clear. In couples work, the relationship is the “client,” and it is imperative that neither individual feels marginalized. Managing that well and simultaneously meeting the needs of both individuals and the relationship can be challenging. It seems as if your wife began to feel as if her needs were not being met and took appropriate steps to terminate her relationship with that therapist.

Whether or not your feelings are “justified,” if you are feeling betrayed it is important that you address those feelings with your therapist.

It seems as if you felt aligned with and supported by this therapist until the recent revelation that she was working with your ex. Whether or not your feelings are “justified,” if you are feeling betrayed it is important that you address those feelings with your therapist. Having the opportunity to explore what is contributing to your discomfort could be helpful. You may ultimately decide you are not comfortable moving forward with this particular therapist, or you may discover that you are able to work together. Either way, having a conversation about trust and boundaries seems important.

I do wonder about some of the roots of your discomfort. In theory, your therapist is meeting with each of you as individuals; therefore, there should not be competing alignment concerns. Your sessions would focus on your needs, your ex-wife’s on hers. Given the history you’ve had with this therapist, however, I wonder if perhaps you are concerned about her ability to remain impartial and unbiased. Are you concerned that you may begin to feel the way your wife felt before she terminated their relationship? Might you be worried that this therapist will not be able to compartmentalize information from one of your sessions and bring that bias into the other’s session?

Whatever your concerns, without safety and trust, it is unlikely that your work together would be helpful or beneficial. If you are able to address your concerns, this might be an opportunity to deepen your trust. At the very least, this feels like important feedback for your therapist so she can understand how her choices are impacting your feelings of trust and safety.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • 2 comments
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  • Noel

    Noel

    March 9th, 2018 at 6:54 PM

    thank you for this 🙂

  • revu

    revu

    March 19th, 2018 at 12:06 PM

    thanks for sharing with me in this :)

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