The influence of therapist attractiveness, presenting problem, and client gender on client comfort with disclosing in couple therapy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Dean M. Busby


Families & family life, Personal relationships, Sociology, Psychotherapy, appearance bias, physical attractiveness

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society


Research has shown that facial attractiveness can significantly affect the quality and quantity of interactions with others, this is particularly true for women. In psychotherapy research, facially attractive therapists receive higher ratings of competence, trustworthiness, caring, genuineness, and therapeutic effectiveness than do less attractive therapists. No studies exist to help explain how the therapist's attractiveness influences a client's self-disclosure. The current research project, through means of experimental design, assesses this very influence. Participants (n = 241) were randomly assigned to one of eight experimental groups to test three specific hypotheses regarding the possible interaction among therapist attractiveness, gender of client, nature of presenting problem and client's comfort with disclosing in couple therapy.

Analysis of variance procedures established that participants, in general, reported feeling more comfortable disclosing a benign problem than a potentially embarrassing problem, and more comfortable disclosing problems to an attractive than to a less attractive female therapist. The results failed to indicate any significant gender differences, in that men and women both preferred to disclose to an attractive female therapist. The limitations of this project, including the experimental design itself, are discussed.

While the results of this project are interesting, they cannot reliably be generalized to a real-life therapy situation. Specific research designs, aimed at moving these results to a more practical level are suggested. These designs must utilize actual therapy vignettes, client interviews, and therapists of differing attractiveness levels to conclude that therapist attractiveness is a relevant and substantial variable that affects client disclosure. It is also recommended that these designs consider the mediating effect of length-of-treatment on any influence therapist attractiveness might have on the client's comfort with disclosing in therapy.

Additional dialogue considers the macro and micro implications of this research for couple therapists. The macro implications are discussed in the shadow of other characteristics that influence personal relationships. Race, gender, and age are variables by which people are judged. The judges then ascribe certain characteristics to these people based on their observations. Attractiveness is one of these variables because it is also visually assessed and carries with it judgments of competency. The micro implications focus on specific techniques therapists can use to mediate the effects of attractiveness judgments that may negatively influence the therapeutic relationship. Additionally, understanding that an individual's attractiveness is a characteristic by which one is judged throughout life, provides therapists with new avenues for clinical discussion.


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