Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Dual Relationships: A Continuum Ranging from the Destructive to the Therapeutic

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Dual Relationships: A Continuum Ranging from the Destructive to the Therapeutic

Article excerpt

Ethical decision making is an ongoing process with no easy answers. In order to promote the well-being of clients, counselors must constantly balance their own values and life experiences with professional codes of ethics as they make choices about how to help their clients effectively. Therefore, knowing ethical codes and the consequences of unsanctioned practice can be useful tools to counselors during their attempts to establish therapeutic relationships with clients (Herlihy & Corey, 1997). However, although professional codes of conduct provide guidelines for how counselors should behave with clients, they do not furnish absolute answers for how counselors must act in every situation (Remley, Hermann, & Huey, 2003). Consequently, practitioners must combine their understanding of ethical codes with sound judgment to serve the best interests of their clients.

Some of the most challenging ethical situations result from dual relationships between counselors and others. "A dual relationship is created whenever the role of counselor is combined with another relationship, which could be professional (e.g., professor, supervisor, employer) or personal (e.g., friend, close relative, sexual partner)" (Herlihy & Remley, 2001, p. 80). For example, a counselor who serves as both a therapist and a business partner or friend to a client is engaged in a dual relationship (Maley & Reilly, 1999). Because there are many types of dual relationships and because ethical codes provide only general guidelines for handling these relationships, counselors sometimes have difficulty understanding what dual relationships are and how to handle them. The purpose of this article is to explore this issue and to provide counselors with information about, and suggestions for, managing ethical dilemmas pertaining to personal and professional entanglements between practitioners and their clients. Although other forms of dual relationships have been discussed in the literature (e.g., between supervisor and supervisee, professor and student), this article is focused on dual relationships between counselors and their clients.

In this article, dual relationships are defined and pertinent ethical standards from several professional organizations are cited. Examples of harmful and helpful dual relationships are discussed as well as their impact on the client, counselor, and profession as a whole. Guidelines regarding multiple relationships, developed to protect the client as well as the practitioner, are examined. This article demonstrates that dual relationships fall on a continuum ranging from the destructive to the therapeutic.

What Are Dual Relationships?

A dual or a multiple relationship exists whenever a counselor has other connections with a client in addition or in succession to the counselor-client relationship. "This may involve assuming more than one professional role (such as instructor and therapist) or blending professional and nonprofessional relationships (such as a counselor and friend or counselor and business partner)" (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 1998, p. 225). According to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice (American Counseling Association [ACA], 1995), "Examples of such relationships include, but are not limited to, familial, social, financial, business, or close personal relationships with clients" (p. 3). Similarly, the most recent revision of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association [APA], 2002) provides the following definition:

   A multiple relationship occurs when a psychologist is in a
   professional role with a person and (1) at the same time is in
   another role with the same person, (2) at the same time is in a
   relationship with a person closely associated with or related
   to the person with whom the psychologist has the professional
   relationship, or (3) promises to enter into another relationship
   in the future with the person or a person closely
   associated with or related to the person. … 
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