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Psychologists often face situations where clients initiate a discussion that could lead to multiple relationships or boundary issues. The most commonly encountered issues are termination and sexual relationships. This paper discusses the defining factors therapists consider when deciding how to best handle these types of dilemmas, by considering the client, the ethical standards, the legalities, as well as the personally pertinent factors.
This paper discusses two separate ethical dilemmas, in part one the ramifications of social relationships after termination, and in part two this paper discusses sexual attraction on the part of the client and/or the counselor, and both parts one and two discuss appropriate steps and factors that should be considered. Termination and Post Therapy Relationships: Ethical, Legal, and Personally Pertinent The American Counseling Association (ACA) specifically addresses that counselors are “prohibited in having client/counselor relationships with former clients for a period of five years” (Section A. . b), and specifies that counselors prior to beginning such a relationship should “demonstrate forethought of ways such a relationship may be viewed as exploitive, or if the potential relationship could cause harm” (ACA, 2013, Section A. 5. b. ).
The American Psychological Association (APA) General Principle A: Beneficence and Non-maleficence states that “psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm” (APA, 2002); this is applicable both during the counseling process and after the counseling relationship has ended.
This paper is in two parts, the first addresses socializing with former clients, and the second part discusses sexual attraction of a client toward his or her therapist, or vice versa. This paper discusses the client, the ethical standards, the legalities, as well as the personally pertinent factors in facing dilemmas of socializing with former clients, or having personal attractions toward a client, and/or by the client’s initiation of these, and how I as professional would proceed. Part 1: Socializing with Former Clients
As a future counseling professional, I plan to discuss socializing outside the therapeutic relationship with clients during the initial intake session, explaining that for the counselor (me) to remain objective such relationships would not be possible under any circumstances. However, some may wish to remain in contact after their counseling has ended, which I would also find unethical. With technology so readily available, almost everyone utilizes technology to stay in contact with friends, family, and significant others via social media sites (e. g. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter). However, just because something is readily available, does not mean it should be accessed in every scenario, especially in professional client/counseling relationships.
Mainly due to the fact that these types of networking sites are very vulnerable, as Devi (2011) posits “the number one concern is confidentiality and how to preserve it” (para. 8). Professionals must adhere to the ethical codes and guidelines that are set in place to protect both the counseling professional as well as the client, and are legally bound by these principles.
While there are no regulations or ethical codes that specifically address having social (non-sexual) relationships with former clients, it should be avoided, no matter if its initiation is on the part of the client or the counseling professional (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011). The client/counselor relationship needs to be and remain objective on the part of the professional, and having personal feelings in a relationship can not only hinder the counseling professional’s objectivity but can also harm the client.
Corey, et al (2011) posits that “counselors are at a greater risk of exploiting clients because of the power differential in the therapeutic relationship” (p. 298), which is another reason such relationships should be avoided. If a counselor were to befriend a former client and at some point in the future that same former client is faced with a dilemma and requires the services of a professional once again, the previous (now friend) professional could not ethically counsel, because of the loss of objectivity and the possibilities of exploitation of the client.
Since it is the professional’s responsibility to look after, what is in the best interest of their clients, becoming friends with former clients should be avoided. Part 2: Sexual Attractions with Former Clients Physical and/or sexual attractions should never be acted upon by a professional during or after the counseling relationship has ended. It is true that no one can help who they are physically attracted to, and “although, fleeting sexual feelings and attractions are normal, intense preoccupations with clients is problematic” (Corey, et al, 2011, p. 02) whether these feelings are acted upon or not. Professionals having inappropriate sexual feelings toward a client can increase the chances that the “therapist could behave seductively, have sexual fantasies about client, or inadvertently influence the client to have these types of feelings towards the counseling professional” (Corey, et al, 2011, p. 306). In situations where a practicing professional has sexual feelings towards a client, that client should be referred to another professional.
If a counseling professional is confronted by a client stating that he or she is having inappropriate feelings toward him or her (the counselor), the client’s feelings should be discussed and addressed professionally and ethically. The counseling professional needs to be clear in explaining that these types of feelings are inappropriate, unethical, and unacceptable, and if they cannot be worked through and moved past, the counseling relationship will have to be terminated as the client is referred to another therapist.
In a situation where the professional chooses to act upon sexual feelings towards a former client, only after the mandated (by APA or relevant ethics codes have established) time has passed, it is the professional’s “ethical burden to demonstrate that the relationship is not exploitive of the former client” (Fisher, 2009, p. 305).
As both a married woman and future counseling professional, I don’t think this will ever become a questionable dilemma with me personally, as I have been faced with this type of situation in my role as worker in the past, where I found the best practice is to avoid and deter these types of situations, at initiation. In conclusion this paper has addressed social relationships with a former client in part one, and sexual attraction with former or current client in part two and both part one and two has discussed the ethical, legal, and personally pertinent aspects of professional conduct and how one should proceed in both types of dilemmas.
A professional’s failure to comply with the ethics codes established for counseling professionals can lead to the imposition of further education for the professional or to expulsion from practice by ethics committees (Hotelling, 1988). In cases where harm has befallen the client at the hands of the professional, more extreme measure are taken, in some cases even prison. As Corey, et al (2011) posits “many states have enacted legal sanctions in cases of sexual misconduct in the therapeutic relationship, making it a criminal offence” (p. 310).
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