When a practitioner is both a friend, therapist, and/or teacher, the professional is putting themselves in a conflict-of-interest situation. Both parties in a professional relationship may be hindered by the existence and demands of the other relationship in order to achieve their therapeutic objectives. The terms boundary crossing and boundary violation are also used, the former for the identification of multiple relationships at low risk of harm to clients and the latter for the identification of high-risk relationships.
“A single female colleague of yours tells you that she is having a problem with one of her female clients, to whom she is very much attracted. She finds herself willing to run overtime in the sessions. If she were not a client, your colleague confides to you that she would most likely ask this person out for a date. Your colleague is wondering if she should terminate the professional relationship and begin a personal one. She has shared with her client that she is sexually attracted to her, and the client admits to finding her attractive too.”
Your colleague comes to you for your suggestions on how she should proceed. What would you say to her? What do you think you would do if you found yourself in a similar situation?
Response: I would advise my colleague to consider the ethical ramifications that might arise from the conflict of interest. One must be aware of the possibility for a power imbalance to arise as a result of having numerous connections, and it is crucial to draw a clear distinction between the roles of friend, therapist, and teacher (CCPA, 2020). The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (2020) has created a Code of Ethics for the counselling and psychotherapy profession that outlines the duties of practitioners in terms of professionalism and ethics. I would advise my colleague to study the information in this document and carefully examine the possible results that can arise from working on too many tasks for the same client. In order to ensure that I am not acting unethically, if I were in that situation, I would consult with another expert. Additionally, I would be sure to fully address with my client any potential drawbacks of having many relationships and only ask for permission to proceed after gaining their informed consent.
Question for you: “I think my concern would be any continued work with the client is already compromised. Do you think part of your advice would be referring the client elsewhere immediately?”
Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. (2020). Code of ethics. https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/CCPA-2020-Code-of-Ethics-E-Book-EN.pdf