Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- at Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional Client Relationships by Marilyn R. Peterson

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- at Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional Client Relationships by Marilyn R. Peterson

Article excerpt

PETERSON, Marilyn R., AT PERSONAL RISK: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships. New York.: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1992, 200 pp., $22.95 hardcover.

Moved by the mounting skepticism of a more awakened and increasingly litigious public, the media are reporting an avalanche of misconduct from law, medicine, religion, education, and psychotherapy -- professions with strong moral, ethical and legal obligations to make their clients' needs paramount. Instances abound of medical malfeasance, insurance fraud, misuse of clients' funds, as well as sexual harassment and abuse. While the specific content of these egregious encroachments appears to define most vividly the parameters of professional-client boundary violations, this definitional approach tends to normalize and, thus, camouflage less visible boundary violations which preceed and often forecast the more flagrant ones. Furthermore, this viewpoint tends to minimize attention to and understanding of the damage done to less notably victimized clients and to the moral convenant which underpins all professional-client relationships.

In "At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships", Marilyn Peterson uses a more dynamic definition of professional-client boundary violations which focuses on the process of disconnection that occurs within the context of such relationships. Peterson begins by exploring the power differential in the professional-client relationship and professionals' difficulty with managing their power. The author demonstrates how, through repetitive social conditioning, beginning in childhood, clients come to annoint professionals with tremendous power and superiority. Through additional power sources of social ascription, expert knowledge, as well as clients' needs, expectations, and dependencies, professionals are vested with the authority to direct the lives of others. Furthermore, clients confer power on professionals, defer to their expertise, and comply with their directives based on the trusted ideal that professionals will faithfully utilize their power for the benefit of the client.

Peterson emphasizes, however, that most professionals are burdened and conflicted about their power and tend to engage in behaviors which distort, deny, or minimize its significance. This ambivalence toward power often dramatically impedes professionals' ability to use such power wisely, within the relationship context, to meet each client's particular needs. According to Peterson, the degree to which professionals deny responsibility for their power, the more likely they will misuse it, cross sacred professional-client boundaries, and exploit the relationship to meet personal needs rather than those of their clients.

Peterson describes four interlocking characteristics common to all professional-client boundary violations: role reversal, where the client becomes the caretaker; one or more secrets where critical knowledge or behavior is kept from the client; a double-bind in which the client risk being hurt no matter what choice or decision he or she makes; and an indulgence of personal privilege where the professional takes advantage of the client's vulnerability. Peterson argues that boundary violations weaken the fiber of the professional-client connection, causing great pain for clients, who feel victimized and double-crossed and who, alone, can never fully resolve this relational injury. …

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