Deception in Family Therapy: Recognition,
Implications, and Intervention
, Carly Shadid,
and Katherine M. Hertlein
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Aid for AIDS of Nevada, Las Vegas
Deception, in its many forms, is present in families and relationships across the globe. The impact of the presence
and discovery of family secrets or deceptive acts on the individual, the family unit, and the therapeutic process,
particularly in the field of marriage and family therapy, has not been thoroughly studied or discussed. Further,
deceptive acts during the therapeutic process may have implications for effective treatment planning. This article
defines the various forms of deception and its systemic effects on relationships and on the therapeutic process.
Possible interventions to address deception in a family therapeutic setting are proposed.
Keywords: deception, therapeutic process, myths, secrets, lies, betrayal
1 The impact of the presence and discovery of family secrets or deceptive acts on the individual, the family
unit, and the therapeutic process, particularly in the field of marriage and family therapy, has not been thor-
oughly studied or discussed.
2 Deceptive acts during family therapy may have implications for effective treatment planning.
3 This article defines the various forms of deception and its systemic effects on relationships and on the ther-
4 This article presents interventions for deception in relational systems.
5 This article presents interventions for deception between therapist and client.
A primary feature of the psychotherapeutic process is conversation. Therapists rely on
clients to describe features of their symptoms, discuss the etiology of their concerns,
and articulate how they are making changes in their lives. The presumption of truth
in reporting of symptoms and tracking of behaviour in the therapeutic process is a
key element in how a therapist designs interventions: after all, therapists can only
work with what clients bring to the table. When clients cannot or do not share their
subjective experiences in a truthful manner, it is up to the therapist to make a judge-
ment call as to whether the experience reported is accurate and how to proceed with
Deception occurs throughout every relationship but is rarely discussed in couple
and family therapy literature. The type of deception and the motivations behind the
deception will determine the feelings of betrayal or consequences for the future. This
occurrence can have ramiﬁcations for all future interactions with that individual and
for future relationships. When deception surfaces in a system, it can be a signiﬁcant
fracture whose repair is dependent on the deceptive individual’s willingness to stop
the deceptive behaviour and the ability or willingness of those affected to restore
Address for correspondence: Janna North, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV, USA. jannanorth-
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2018, 39,38–53
ª 2018 Australian Association of Family Therapy