Relationship-undermining statements by psychotherapists with clients who present with marital or couple problems

William J. Doherty, Steven M. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This study examined the prevalence of relationship undermining statements by psychotherapists as reported by clients in individual therapy who presented with relationship problems, and whether these statements were associated with worse outcomes for client relationships. Participants (n = 101) reported on recollections of whether their therapist had suggested that their partner would never change, had a diagnosable personality/mental health disorder, had negative motives, that the relationship was doomed from the start or beyond repair now, or that divorce/breakup was their best option. Findings showed high prevalence of these undermining statements and associations with poorer relationship outcomes and shorter duration of therapy. We discuss potential explanations for this phenomenon and offer implications for the training of therapists who treat individual clients with relationship problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFamily process
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Family Process published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Family Process Institute.


  • distress
  • iatrogenic effects
  • marital problems
  • relationship
  • therapy outcomes
  • training


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