Dual Relationships as a Therapist*

(*Disclaimer: just a vent; nothing for S to freak out about)

So apparently the laws of ethics demand that therapists can never be friends with or sleep with clients. That makes perfect sense in the short term—sleeping with someone you’re currently treating as a client has all sorts of terrible repercussions (not to mention what it says about the therapist as a person). However, say for example a single female therapist sees a single male client in 2011 for a specific phobia. The client is otherwise a mentally healthy individual except he’s terrified of heights or injections (or dogs, whatever) and treatment takes about three months. After those three months, the client has overcome his fear and appreciates the help he was given. Three years later at a 2014-2015 New Years’ Eve party, the therapist’s best friend invites her roommates’ friends, one of whom happens to be this former client. They start talking about absolutely nothing related to the fear he experienced in his past (or even if they do) and they find out that they have a lot in common and share similar opinions and senses of humor.

They are absolutely forbidden to have sex or become friends based on the APA ethics code. As a matter of fact, they probably shouldn’t even have spoken. Because it’s “unethical” to establish any other form of a relationship outside of the therapeutic one with someone who has ever been a client.

I personally don’t agree with this. It was brought up in class that it’s just a simple black-and-white rule that having sex with a client is strictly forbidden. It’s not black-and-white. Nothing is ever black-and-white. Maybe that’s just the difference between myself and certain other people, but I always see myself interpersonally as having the potential to develop friendships with others in almost every new social interaction. If I were in that situation described above (and I wasn’t in the theoretical last relationship I’ll ever be in), I don’t know that the situation would really warrant that restriction via the ethics code. I’m sure this opinion will screw me in the future somehow, but I just want to know where the harm is in such a situation. Or why it’s so unfathomable that a situation such as that could easily arise.

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