Title page for ETD etd-02172004-121146

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Hertlein, Katherine Anne
URN etd-02172004-121146
Title Internet Infidelity: An Examination of Family Therapist Treatment Decisions and Gender Biases
Degree PhD
Department Human Development
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Johnson, Scott W. Committee Co-Chair
Piercy, Fred P. Committee Co-Chair
Benningfield, Anna Beth Committee Member
Cooper, Alvin Committee Member
Skaggs, Gary E. Committee Member
  • Differential Treatment
  • Religiosity
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Therapist’s Biases
  • Internet
  • Infidelity
  • Treatment
  • Assessment
  • Affairs
Date of Defense 2004-02-02
Availability unrestricted
The Internet is being used more and more frequently as a way for people to meet. The Internet also provides increased opportunities to initiate couple relationships, as well as affairs. The present study adds to the existing literature base in Internet infidelity treatment as well as therapist conceptualization processes.

The present study investigated how family therapists assess and treat Internet infidelity. It assessed whether gender and other social background variables of therapists are operating in treatment decisions. Specifically, this study provided three clinical vignettes to 508 practicing marriage and family therapists and asked them several treatment and assessment questions about the cases while manipulating the gender of the clients in the vignettes. The questions asked of clinicians assess the clinician’s prognosis of the case, the clinician’s treatment strategy, how many sessions might be necessary, and how severe the clinician perceives the problem. Results include:

a) treatment decisions of therapists regarding Internet infidelity cases

b) information as to whether the assessment and treatment decisions vary according to the gender of the clients in Internet infidelity vignettes

c) whether the treatment decisions vary depending on the clinician’s social background characteristics (such as age, religiosity, gender).

The results indicate that therapists who are more religious tended to view Internet infidelity as that which might require a greater individual focus. Age and gender of the clinicians also affected how therapists used treated cases, with younger clinicians more likely to alter environmental issues and female clinicians more likely to focus on couple processes in treatment. Further, clinicians also viewed men as more likely to be sex addicted, while women engaging in the same behavior were viewed as atypical for engaging in the same behavior. Clinicians also made differential decisions in treatment based on client needs, client gender, client health, and their personal theoretical orientation.

This study sheds light on the role of specific identity variables in treatment decisions. It also provides a foundational knowledge of the treatment of Internet infidelity that will serve as a springboard for future projects to examine the effectiveness of different treatments, develop treatment protocols, and elevate the standard of care for this increasingly prevalent presenting problem.

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