Tag Archives: Professional ethics

Multiple relationships: Just how many is too many?


Last night in our ethics class we took up the issue of multiple or dual relationships. For those of you who haven’t heard of either term, it refers to the situation where a counselor is not only a person’s counselor but they also have another relationship with the client as well: counselor and pastor, counselor and friend, counselor and business partner, counselor and friend of a child, and the like.

Every professional ethics code (secular or not) raises concerns about dual relationships given their potential for causing harm to the client. The AACC code recognizes that dual relationships are a given in Christian communities and something not to be banned outright. But even this code suggests that forming a dual relationship is a breakdown of professional relationships.

Over the years, I would estimate that 2/3 of the students in my program come thinking that dual relationships are good, even optimal and that those who would outright refuse more influenced by old psychotherapy models. So, part of my class is to talk about the benefits and liabilities of dual relationships. There are success stories and horror stories. But what is the value behind limiting these kinds of counseling relationships? It is to, “Do no harm,” to work for the client’s best interest and not one’s own.

Here’s what I asked my students last night. In an area filled with counselors, why would you think YOU ought to engage in a dual relationship? I want to push them to consider their reasons. Is it people pleasing? Is it to feel valued? Is it arrogance that no one else can help?

I am not against dual relationships and have engaged in some superficial one’s myself. But I do think we ought not engage in them without having forced ourselves to consider that maybe the reasons we do so are not really for our client’s best interests.

What do you think?

Of course, the answer to my title question is this: Even one unexplored dual relationship (exploring reasons why, options not to, possible dangers, informed consent, etc.) is too many.

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Filed under AACC, ethics