Dual relationships are prohibited under the Code of Ethics. Dual relationships is a nice way of saying if I have ever been your counselor or therapist, I can never be your friend, lover, boss or lawyer. On the flipside, if you’ve ever been my friend, lover, boss or lawyer, you cannot be my client. This ethical code is another important part of ensuring that no one gets taken advantage of by the existence of the therapeutic relationship.
In practice, dual relationships can be difficult to navigate. At one extreme, it’s very simple. It is never, ever appropriate for a therapist or counselor to have a sexual relationship with a client, period. End of story. Ever. Once a client, always a client. In more subtle ways, dual relationships can get really complicated.
What if I attend the same church as my client and we volunteer for the same committee? Am I obligated to leave the committee? I would say yes, and another social worker could rightfully disagree with me. What about belonging to the same church? Depends on the size of the church. This question can get complicated for therapists in rural areas or those of us who work with minority communities, especially if we are a member of that community ourselves.
One way dual relationships are avoided is for counselors and therapists to be very limited with self-disclosure (how much they tell their clients about themselves). How many times can we chat at a networking event before I know you too well to be your counselor? How many tweets (@soaringhrt) can we exchange? What kind of information do I blog about? How do I protect my online privacy? In an era of personal and authentic marketing through social media, dual relationships and self-disclosure create a whole new challenge for social workers. So if this comes up when I’m working with you or when I don’t follow you on twitter or friend you on facebook – nothing personal. It’s just me doing my best to be an ethical professional in a complicated world.