Multiple-Role Relationships and Conflicts of Interest: Risking Harm
Multiple-role relationships are among the most troublesome problems faced by psychologists. When psychologists are asked to describe difficult ethical concerns that they face in their work, multiple-role relationships are frequently cited ( Pope & Vetter, 1992). Further, they have been a major source of ethics complaints opened against psychologists by the APA Ethics Committee (APA, 1995, 1996, 1997a) for several years. General issues regarding multiple-role relationships are discussed in this chapter while the specific problems that arise when relationships are sexualized are covered in chapter 8.
Generally, multiple-role relationships arise when an individual participates simultaneously or sequentially in two or more relationships with another person. Harmful multiple-role relationships typically arise when there are substantial differences or conflicts between the two roles. As this definition suggests, multiple-role relationships do not necessarily involve a professional person and a client, student, or research participant. They can and do happen in everyday life.
It is, however, when they occur in professional practice that they become ethically troublesome for psychologists. Sonne ( 1994) wrote that multiple-role relationships in psychology include those in which the psychologist is playing two or more professional roles as well as those in which the psychologist is involved in another nonprofessional "definitive and intended role" (p. 336). The multiplicity of roles can be sequential as well as concurrent ( K. S. Kitchener, 1988; Pope & Vasquez, 1991; Sonne, 1994). For example, the APA ( 1992) ethics code points to several sequential sexual relationships as ethically problematic, including those that involve taking a