Foundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in Psychology

By Karen Strohm Kitchener | Go to book overview
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Chapter 8
Sexualized Professional Relationships: Causing Harm

The problems involved in sexualized multiple-role relationships were discussed after those involved in multiple-role relationships in general not because they are considered less important but because they involve all of the concerns raised in the previous chapter and more. Additionally, it seems that the psychological literature on multiple roles has focused so strongly on sexualized ones that nonsexual ones have received less attention. The potential for damage arising from other types of multiple-role relationships was established in chapter 7. Harm arising from sexualized relationships can be understood as exacerbating problems that exist in any potential multiple-role relationship. Conflicts that were problematic in nonsexual multiple-role relationships become heightened when professional relationships become sexualized. The power differential remains great, the differences in expectations between a therapist, supervisor, or professor and a lover are huge, and the conflict of interest involved for the professional is profound. One cannot work for the best interests of the consumer and also try to meet one's own sexual needs. Consequently, the potential for harm is very high.


Because the potential for harm is so high, all of the major mental health professional associations have identified sexual relationships between current clients and therapists as unethical. The APA ( 1992) standard on this issue is one of the clearest in the ethics code: "Psychologists do not engage in sexual intimacies with clients" (Standard 4.05). Furthermore, the code also states "Psychologists do not accept as therapy patients or clients persons with whom they have engaged in sexual relationships" (Standard 4.06).

According to Pope and Bouhoutsos ( 1986), there are several reasons for this


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