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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dilemma 8: A Session with the Spouse

Dr. Faye Miller receives a referral for a 35-year-old female, Betty Drapier, who is both feeling depressed and experiencing marital problems.  During the first few sessions, Mrs. Drapier indicates that her husband, Don, is depressed and in treatment.  Part of her struggle is that she sees her husband as more depressed now than when he started treatment.  By Mrs. Drapier’s report, he appears more stressed because of his job and drinking alcohol more frequently.  She reports that his treating psychologist, Dr. Cooper, is working with her husband and has allegedly advised him to discontinue his medication in favor of an herbal remedy (St. John’s Wort).  Dr. Miller suggests that she meet with both Mr. and Mrs. Drapier to evaluate the marital situation.

At that time, Dr. Miller not only wanted to evaluate the marriage, but to evaluate how impaired the husband was, and Mrs. Drapier’s ability to assess her husband and the marriage accurately.

During the next session, Mr. and Mrs. Drapier arrive separately, but on time.  Mr. Drapier acknowledges many cognitive, behavioral, and physical symptoms of serious depression.  Mr. Drapier smelled as if he had been drinking.  Mr. Drapier also admits that his alcohol use has increased.  He also divulged that his risk-taking behavior has increased as well, such as speeding. During the session, Mr. Drapier verbalized suicidal ideation in a flip manner (“Sometimes I think it would be better if I just killed myself”).  The marital situation appears deteriorated and Mr. Drapier appears significantly depressed. 

As the session winds down, Mr. Drapier spontaneously asks for a second opinion about his treatment with Dr. Cooper.  He indicated that Dr. Cooper recommended that he discontinue a psychotropic medication in favor of an herbal remedy.  Mr. Drapier mentions that Dr. Cooper sells St. John’s Wort to him directly.

After reiterating the purpose of the session (which was to assess the marital situation and not to assess his current treatment), Dr. Miller states that she feels uncomfortable with the request, although she is concerned about the psychologist’s reported behavior. She is also concerned about Mr. Drapier’s level of depression, alcohol use, and suicidal statement.

Abruptly, Mr. Drapier looks at his watch and leaves the office explaining that he is late for a business meeting.

What are Dr. Miller's potential ethical issues in this situation?

What are some actions that you, as the treating psychologist, may have done differently?

If you were Dr. Miller, what are your emotional reactions to this situation?

What obligations does the psychologist have to Mr. Drapier, Mrs. Drapier, Dr. Cooper, and the public?