Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Beliefs and Practices of Christian Psychotherapists regarding Non-Sexual Multiple Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Beliefs and Practices of Christian Psychotherapists regarding Non-Sexual Multiple Relationships

Article excerpt

A group of 362 Christian mental health professionals were surveyed regarding their beliefs about and their practices concerning non-sexual multiple relationships (NSMR's). On each of 28 items, respondents were asked to indicate the degree to which they engaged in the multiple relationship behavior and the degree to which they believed each behavior to be ethical. In addition to multiple relationship situations faced by most mental health providers, a number of the items dealt specifically with multiple relationships that arise in faith-based environments or with religious clients. Among other things, results indicated that Christian therapists who worked in church-based settings were more likely to engage in NSMR's than were therapists in other settings. Moreover, respondents indicated that non-sexual multiple relationships were the most frequent ethical dilemma they faced in practice. Implications of the findings for the training of Christian therapists and for therapists who work in faith-based settings are discussed.

One of the more important fiduciary responsibilities of a practicing psychologist or therapist is to avoid or manage multiple for dual) relationships that emerge in practice. According to Standard 3.05 of the 2002 ethics code of the American Psychological Association, a prohibited multiple relationship occurs when a psychologist is involved in an extra-professional relationship with a patient or someone else close to the patient and the "multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist's objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists" (APA, 2002). All multiple relationships involve a mixing of roles or a crossing of boundaries. However, some multiple relationships involve a violation of boundaries or a loss of objectivity or effectiveness, and it is these kinds of multiple relationships that are proscribed in the professional codes of ethics.

The mental health professions agree without question that engaging in a sexual/romantic relationship with a patient during the course of therapy or once therapy is over (before a prescribed period of time has passed) is a multiple relationship that is always inappropriate. There are also types of nonsexual multiple relationships (NSMR's) that are almost always inappropriate. Going into business with or requesting gifts from patients are examples (Koocher &c Keith-Spiegel, 2008, pp. 265,294).

But what about situations in which the therapist is acquainted with the client in another context such as having children on the same soccer team or doing business at a dry cleaners where a client works? According to Standard 3.05 of the latest APA code, "multiple relationships that would not reasonably be expected to cause impairment or risk exploitation or harm arc not unethical" (APA, 2002).

Still, there are those both within and outside the profession who argue that NSMR's are never, or almost never, appropriate in therapy. Younggren and Gottlieb (2004) quote one mental health attorney who made the claim that 'all dual relationships in psychotherapy are unethical" and leave any therapist who engages in one at dire risk. Others have claimed that NSMR's should almost alwavs be avoided because they lead mental health professionals who engage in them down a 'slippery slope" that will lead to engaging in sexual misconduct (Gutheil & Gabbard, 1993).

On the other side are those psychologists who argue that many NSMR's are not only permissible, but advisable (Lazarus & Zur, 2002). For example, Zur (2000) asserts that when a prospective client knows and respects a therapist because of personal contact in another context such as through community or school, the trust and confidence that ensues often constitutes the prime reason the client seeks the therapist out for help and can also have a positive impact on the therapeutic process and outcomes. …

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