There is a lot of intentionality needed as to the timing and wording of an effective polygraph: one that doesn’t fall into the breach as either too vague or too specific. A truly therapeutic polygraph then is one that is usually positioned after a period of transparency and trust building so that the results will confirm or corroborate regularly observed behavior as well as the written disclosure that often accompanies the experience. You are limited to just a very few questions in the poly, usually no more than four and often one of these is “where you honest, forthcoming, and thorough to the best of your awareness in your written and/or verbal disclosure?”.
More and more the inclusion of polygraphs are becoming a preferred way to help clients corroborate their truth. However, it requires dialogue, education, and avoidance of intentional (or perhaps accidental) “setup” or pitfall questions in the design and drafting of a good polygraph battery. When eventually demystified and embraced as a “helpful partner” in truth seeking the polygraph exam can be made to serve as part of a “truth and trusting” process rather than a line-in-the-sand static event or fodder for ultimatum that will circumvent the healing process.
There is also the potential for ambiguity, misinterpretation, and disconnect in the sexual area when interpreting wording and semantics if a spouse is bringing questions ad hoc. For example, someone can answer “no” to the polygraph question “were you sexual with someone else?”, but if they in their own definitional vocabulary have determined or interpreted “sexual” to imply “intercourse” they might “pass the poly” with “good conscience”.… but all the while may have engaged in touching, kissing, or even foreplay with another person (or some other trust breaking behavior). Obviously, in such a case the polygraph question is belatedly found to have been too ambiguous.
Much rarer is the case that someone registers a false negative. In other words, they would “fail a polygraph” (or more accurately, respond affirmatively and somehow admit to a “behavior” … but at a different threshold than the question intended). For example, I have had a client reveal a “yes” answer to the question “have you pursued relationship outside of your marriage?” This is a poorly worded question because the client was only trying to acknowledge that they had received generic, unsolicited and uninvited one-time platonic phone or email contact from an old girlfriend. But because they did not immediately acknowledge they were currently married, as well as check this encounter in with their group for accountability, their fear-based conscience wondered if they were somehow subconsciously or passively “pursuing” the long lost person.
Obviously, a spouse could easily become reactive and fast-forward, “awfulize”, or project a strong intentionality to the “yes” answer without understanding the context of fear or conservative response the answer was provided in. So again the question above was too ambiguous to provide a meaningful or definitive revelation. However, the polygraph can be framed as a welcomed and very helpful resource when both parties want corroboration and peace of mind that a passed polygraph examination can bring to them. I encourage clients to dialogue with their therapist about all the ramifications and impacts a decision to use, omit, or decline a polygraph might have for their trust journey.
Blessings, Jeff VanZant
Edited by Justin Vorhees