The Ethics of Dual
Karl Tomm, MD
In my opinion, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Ethics Committee and the AAMFT Board are attending to the wrong issue in actively discouraging dual relationships in the field of family therapy. The focus in the AAMFT Code of Ethics should remain centered on the avoidance of exploitation and not be shifted onto the avoidance of dual relationships. I acknowledge the importance of finding ways to protect the dependency and trust of clients. However, a more specific means of doing so is required than simply avoiding dual relationships. An ethical injunction to avoid duality not only fails to address the exploitation that occurs within professional relationships, it introduces some of its own problems.
Exploitation and dual relationships are very different phenomena. To exploit is “to use selfishly for one’s own ends” (Webster, 1989). In the context of a professional discipline it refers to taking advantage of one’s professional relationship to use, or abuse, another person. Exploitation in relationships is always exploitation, regardless of whether it occurs in a dual relationship, a therapy relationship, a supervisory relationship, or a research relationship. A dual relationship is one
Reprinted by permission. Tomm, K. (1993). The ethics of dual relationships. The California
Psychologist, January/February, 7–19. First published in The Calgary Participator, A Family Therapy
Newsletter, Winter 1991, Volume 1, Number 3.