Dual relationship involving clients and counselor

According to Lynn M. Mayer (2005) dual relationships arise “ when social workers relate to clients in more than one relationship, whether professional, social, or business a counselor. ” This is where a counselor and his or her client develop more then one relationship in addition to the professional one. This other relationship is mostly concurrent to the professional one. Counselors, like the rest of the people in the society, are flexible and shifting in their social boundaries and their relationships with their clients.

This flexibility creates a scenario where they are likely to be in constant collision with their clients, creating the possibility of a dual relationship. Such relationship might develop through socialization at a personal level with the client, accepting gifts or entering into a business association with the client. The position of this paper is that dual relationships, though they maybe unavoidable and beneficial to a client, may end up creating a dilemma due to their potential to result to harmful and unethical consequences.

The issue of dual relationships involving clients and counselors has been widely addressed by the various professional ethical guidelines. The Code of Ethics for the American Counseling Association has touched on this, urging professional to avoid such relationship due to their potential to be harmful to the client and the reputation of the counselor. It states that counselors should “ avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of clients. ” It goes on to note that they should “ make every effort to avoid relationship with clients that could impair professional judgment to increase the risk of harm to clients. ” (ACA, 2005)

The extent of the boundary that should exist between a client and a counselor has been the focus of a raging debate for years. Personal and professional attachment of counselors and clients usually arises. It is not always though that such relation is unethical, in some cases, as recognized by the various scholars, they are unavoidable. A counselor and a client maybe attending the same book club or the same worship place. In such a case, a close relationship at a personal level becomes unavoidable and in fact many come out as constructive. What is important is that a line be drawn between the therapist and the client.

Dual relationships maybe categorized into five categories according to Reamer (2001). The intimacy category refers to a relationship between the client and the therapist that spills over to sexual activities. Another category results to emotional attachment where the client becomes emotionally dependent on the counselor. This mostly according to Reamer occurs in new divorcees or those that have recently been separated. The third category would be when the counselor gets used to receiving gifts and favors from the client, a relationship that results into personal benefits.

The fourth category according to Reamer depends on the nature andpersonalityof the counselor. A counselor’s commitment and love for his work may result to altruism where his or her instinct pushes him to become too committed to the wellbeing of the client. The fifth category that Reamer recognizes as inevitable is where the counselor discovers later that he or she has a special relationship with the client. For example, the counselor may discover that the client is a son of a close old friend. This creates a strong personal attachment that is unavoidable.

This mostly happens in close knit communities especially in the rural areas. With such broad categories, it makes dual relationships difficult to pinpoint as well as avoid, this however does not mean that they are ethically acceptable. It is natural for two human beings to exude a sort of a bond between them, whether such an attachment is based on love, need or convenience. Dual relationships are sometimes as a result of such a bond. The attachment theory can be used to explain this sort of a bond between two human beings.

According to Lynne Gabriel (2005), the “ attachment theory acknowledges the significance of intimacy, loss and separation issues in human relationships-relational experience that might be encountered within the context of dual relationship. ” An analysis of dual relationships in counseling reveals that it would be inappropriate to regard all dual relationships as inappropriate. This inappropriateness depends on the context or on the individuals involved. The various counselors and counselors associations recognize the dilemma that arises where dual relationships arise.

The American Psychological Association code of ethics while recognizing the inevitable nature of such relationships advises caution and avoidance of instances where clients maybe put into the harms way. Scholars are in agreement that some relationships are out rightly unethical and will erode the nature of the relationship the counselor and the client are supposed to have. In some instances, a conflict of interest may arise. Counselors may resolve or result to put their interests first and gain of sexual or financial favors. Such interests may supersede the need to address the client’s problems first.

Pope and Vasquez (1998) advanced the idea that the reason why a dual relationship is unethical and can turn out to be harmful to the client is because of the power differences between the two. Caution hence is the prerogative of the counselor who should initiate steps to avoid harming the client. As afore mentioned, dual relationships have inherent disadvantages as they lead to the crossing of boundaries in the relationship. This is among other problems as recognized by Lynn M. Mayer (2005). These are “ role confusion and power exploitation.

” She goes on to note that “ boundaries exist to protect the client from misuse of the social worker and to establish the professional nature of the relationship. ” The erected boundaries hence should not be crossed or violated (2005). A dual relationship between a counselor and a client may end up with a client feeling confused, exploited and betrayed. It would create a scenario where the client looses trust in counselors which is eventually detrimental to his or her well being. A counselor should avoid circumstances or a relationship that will result to the client loosing credibility in him or in the whole profession.

Such a dual relationship may also result to ripple effects with other clients resenting the fact that a particular client seems to be enjoying a special relationship with the counselor, a relationship that is not replicated to the other clients. One recognized greatest taboo by counselors that stems from dual relationships is sexual relations with a client. This is recognized by the majority of scholars as the core reason why professionals are advised against dual relationships. Where it is important to note that not all dual relationships eventually lead to sex, it is unfathomable that anyone can deny that this is the initial stage.

Sexual relation between a client and a therapist is not only unethical but it can also be actionable in law. Psychological associations prohibit counselors to engage in any sexual contact with a current or a former client in the knowledge that the power relationship can impact greatly on the nature of the decisions made by the client. Psychologists are also cautioned against providing therapy to clients they have been involved with intimately. This is in the understanding that such past sexual relations can impeded on the objectivity of therapy or diagnosis carried out by the professional.

The Code of Ethics for psychologists mostly focuses on the caution against dual relationships due to the high possibility of them blossoming into sexual intimacy and hence exploiting the client. This is what some scholars refer to as predatory dual relationships (Ofer Zur , 2006). Dual relationships between a client and a counselor are not however always detrimental. When effectively handled, they can turn out to be productive. One benefit noted in this is that they help diminish the notion that a counselor possesses an undue power advantage over the client.

An atmosphere hence is created where the client feels that he or she is sharing out his problem to an equal. The client may end up being more honest and candid with the counselor. Whereas one of the major disadvantages of dual relationship is the possible development of a sexual relationship, it can also on the brighter side result to a client choosing the best therapist to attend to his problems. Dual relationships can result to a client getting more acquainted and developing a more personal level of understanding.

It is important to recognize that with such a large profession, it is hard for a client to find a suitable therapist that will give a full response to his or her problem to a level that they desire. With a dual relationship however, it is possible to establish a relationship based on mutual trust and openness, a relationship that is not possible within the confines of the normal professional etiquette. Dual relationships hence can give a client an opportunity to know the therapist that best suites hi or her problem depending on the nature of interaction that they enjoy.

This however has to remain within the precincts ofprofessionalismIt is apparent that dual relationships between clients and counselors are inevitable especially in a close knit community in the rural areas or in a small town. It is also unavoidable where the client also doubles as the banker, the grocer or thedoctor. In such instances, it is “ the professionals’ obligation to take all possible steps to minimize the risks of harm,” as Herlihy, et al (1992) puts it. Entry into such a relationship should be at the express consultation with the client to ensure they are comfortable with it.

Dual relationships should be minimized and where they crop up should be weighed carefully to establish the potential for risks or the advantages. Professionals should be able to foretell whether a certain dual relationship can be avoided and take reasonable effort to ensure the client amply understand the logic behind it. It is hence not prudent to classify all dual relationships as unethical as it has been established that some are not only inevitable but are beneficial to the client. For a dual relationship to be regarded as unethical, the context and the nature of the relationship should be closely analyzed.

Dual relationships are regarded as unethical as they are likely to lead to sexual intimacy or create a conflict of interest. Counselors are charged with a noble duty of taking care of their clients and assisting them cope with the various challenges in life. Whereas various counselors may employ varied strategies in achieving this, ethics demand that they should avoid personalized relationships with the clients. Dual relationships are discouraged and regarded as unethical as they may end up harming the client in the long run rather than helping them reach their set objectives.


Reamer, F. G. , 2001. Tangled Relationships: Managing Boundary Issues in the Human Services. New York Columbia University Press. Lynn Milgram Mayer, 2005. Professional Boundaries in Dual Relationships: A Social Work Dilemma. The Catholic University of America, National Catholic School of Social Service. Journal of Social Work Values & Ethics. Retrieved on 12th June 2008 from http://www. socialworker. com/jswve/content/view/25/ Lynne Gabriel, 2005. Speaking the Unspeakable: The Ethics of Dual Relationships in Counseling. PsychologyPress. Retrieved on 12th June 2008 from http://books.

google. co. ke/books? id= bbkINi28WEC&pg= PT151&dq= Dual+relationships,+involving+clients+and+counselor&client= firefoxa&sig= 4x6o6Q_6uUv68KbJ797schE6jaA Ofer Zur , 2006 . Therapeutic Boundaries and Dual Relationships in Rural Practice: Ethical, Clinical and Standard of Care Considerations. Journal of Rural Community Psychology. Zur Institute, Sonoma, CA. Vol E9 . Number 1. Retrieved on 12th June 2008 from http://www. marshall. edu/jrcp/9_1_Zur. htm American Counseling Association, 2005. ACA – Code of Ethics. Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at IIT.

Retrieved on 12th June 2008 from http://ethics. iit. edu/codes/coe/amer. couns. assoc. 2005. html Pope, K. S. , & Vasquez, M. J. (1998). Ethics in psychotherapy and counseling (2nd ed. ). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Herlihy, Barbara; Corey, Gerald, 1992. Dual Relationships in Counseling. American Association for Counseling and Development, Alexandria, VA 22304. Retrieved on 12th June 2008 from http://eric. ed. gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini. jsp? _nfpb= true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0= ED340985&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0= no&accno= ED340985