Therapists can refer clients to psychiatry on UpLift. Psychiatric providers are available to answer questions about medication, changing treatment plans, side effects, and more.


Through a collaborative approach, harm reduction works within the realities of our world and addresses those truths, rather than deny them.


Through a collaborative approach, harm reduction works within the realities of our world and addresses those truths, rather than deny them.


Through a collaborative approach, harm reduction works within the realities of our world and addresses those truths, rather than deny them.


Through a collaborative approach, harm reduction works within the realities of our world and addresses those truths, rather than deny them.

A therapist explains concepts to a couple in a straight relationship.
Best Practices

Making a “No Secrets” Policy For Couples and Family Counseling

Find out how a “No Secrets” policy protects you and your clients, how it benefits the therapeutic process, and what to think about when making your own policy.

Making a “No Secrets” Policy For Couples and Family Counseling
Katie Coughlin, LCSW


min read


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Couples and family therapy can be a powerful treatment to help individuals and families navigate through challenging times, improve communication, and strengthen relationships. One unique aspect of this therapeutic approach is the implementation of the "No Secrets" policy. We’ll go over the significance of this policy and how it fosters trust, openness, and growth within the therapy process.

What is a “No Secrets” policy?

Having a “No Secrets” policy protects you as a provider and the connection that you have with your client—either a couple or a family. You establish that the couple or the family as a whole unit is your client. 

Because the therapeutic relationship involves more than one person, confidentiality can be more complicated than with individual sessions. As usual, you should inform clients that what they share in sessions is confidential to people outside the unit unless they authorize you to share information, the law requires it, or someone is in danger. 

The big thing is that what they share with you isn’t necessarily confidential to other people within the unit. If someone shares a secret with you individually through a session or some other form of communication, you may choose to share it with other members of the unit for the benefit of the couple or family. The relationship between people is your client, and holding secrets may not only jeopardize the relationship but also the therapeutic process. 

Protecting the effectiveness of therapy

This policy helps prevent a conflict of interest when it comes to protecting the client unit’s relationship. Therapists aren’t responsible for keeping a secret—which is good because in many cases, holding a secret would damage the effectiveness of therapy. 

One big reason would be that the secret itself blocks resolution within the relationship. A commonly cited example is that one person within a couple may confide in a therapist that they are having an affair. Within many “No Secrets” policies, a therapist would respond that this is not something they can keep quiet from the other person in the couple. Doing so would break the trust between the couple, but also between the therapist and other people in the unit, hurting the therapeutic relationship necessary for progress.

Another reason is to prevent triangulation, especially during couples therapy, which can lead to excluding someone from the therapeutic relationship. It can also put therapists in the middle of the conflict, becoming the channel for communication between the couple.

How to enforce a “No Secrets” policy

During an intake session when a couple or family first becomes your client, that’s the time to let them know about your policy. This allows the client to go into therapy with expectations clear from the beginning of how you will handle information shared with you. Some providers also have clients sign consent forms for this policy. 

That means there are also no surprises when it comes time to enforce it. The type of policy you have will impact how you ultimately handle the situation—but when a client shares a secret with you, your response will be to remind them of your policy and inform them what you’ll do. 

There are exceptions to sharing information, though, such as if someone discloses information about abuse or that could put them in danger. 

A therapist sits between a same gender couple to help them communicate.
The type of "No Secrets" policy you have and how you enforce it depends on your own therapeutic approach.

Benefits of a “No Secrets” Policy

Promoting Open Communication

The "No Secrets" policy encourages all participants to share their thoughts and feelings.  By eliminating secrets or hidden information, therapy sessions become a space for genuine and authentic communication.

Addressing Trust Issues

As we know, trust is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship. By encouraging honesty and transparency, individuals can begin to rebuild trust and work toward healing and reconciliation.  The "No Secrets" policy allows therapists to address these trust issues head-on in the therapeutic process.

Uncovering Hidden Dynamics

Family systems can be complex.  There can be underlying dynamics that contribute to relationship challenges. The "No Secrets" policy helps therapists uncover these hidden dynamics by encouraging all participants to share their experiences openly. This allows therapists to understand the family system and identify patterns or behaviors that may be contributing to ongoing issues.

Encouraging Accountability

The "No Secrets" policy also promotes accountability within couples and family therapy. By eliminating secrets, individuals are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and how they have impacted others.  This accountability fosters personal growth and helps individuals develop healthier ways of communicating with one another.

Moving Towards Resolution

In couples and family therapy, the ultimate goal is to work towards resolution and positive change. The "No Secrets" policy will play an important role in achieving this goal. By creating an environment of open communication, trust, and accountability, therapists can guide individuals and families toward healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

Deciding on what kind of policy to have

There are nuances to how different providers approach their “No Secrets” policy. Some therapists may choose to share all information, while others reserve the right to use their judgment to decide what should be shared for the benefit of the relationship. 

When it comes time for information to be shared, some therapists will coach individuals on how to disclose information with others in the therapy unit. 

There are pros and cons to each type of “No Secrets” policy. For example, some providers find that clients may hold back important information for the process out of fear of the policy. Or perhaps an individual continues to put off disclosing a secret, and the therapeutic relationship has to end. 

You may also find that you implement a policy and over time you will grow as a provider to find that a different one works better for you. What you choose for your practice may depend on your approach, modalities, and therapeutic style. 

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About the author
Katie Coughlin, LCSW

Katie Coughlin, LCSW is Senior Director of Clinical Services & Quality Assurance at UpLift.

Edited by

Eliana Reyes

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Every UpLift article is created by our team or other qualified contributors, and reviewed for accuracy by clinicians.

Jack Sykstus, LMFT

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