Avoiding Ethical Impropriety:

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AVOIDING ETHICAL IMPROPRIETY:
PROBLEMS OF DUAL ROLE RELATIONSHIPS

INTRODUCTION
While the primary role of a therapist is to provide counseling services, therapists often assume further professional roles related to their special knowledge and training. For example, they may be consultants, expert witnesses, supervisors, authors, or teachers. As private persons, therapists also assume nonprofessional roles. They may be parents, football coaches, consumers, members of the PTA, friends, sexual partners, and countless other things. In their diverse professional and private capacities therapists can contribute much to the overall happiness of the communities in which they live and work. When a professional assumes at least one additional professional or personal role with respect to the same clients, the relationship thus formed is termed a dual or multiple role relationship. For example, a teacher may also be the supervisor of one of his students/interns, or a counselor may also be a customer of a client/proprietor. Dual role relationships may occur simultaneously or consecutively (NASW, 1997, 1.06.c). For example, a therapist has a consecutive dual role relationship when she counsels a former sexual partner or a former student. While not all dual role relationships are unethical (have potential to cause significant harm to client or other), sometimes the blending of the counseling role with certain personal roles or with certain other professional roles can generate serious moral problems. Throughout this paper this learner will consider intricacies of problematic dual role relationships. The environment this learner will focus on is schools and universities. Two case studies will be presented, one exploring some key issues of sexual relations with clients, the other exploring some key issues of non-sexual dual role relationships. This learner will also apply the ACA code of ethics throughout this paper. Four sets of standards regarding ethical management of dual role relationships will be adduced. DUAL ROLE RELATIONSHIPS INVOLVING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Dual role relationships are morally problematic when they involve the therapist in a conflict of interest. According to Davis and Stark "a person has a conflict of interest if he is in a relationship with one or more others requiring the exercise of judgment in the others' behalf but has a special interest tending to interfere with the proper exercise of judgment in that relationship." For example, a therapist's ability to counsel a client may be adversely affected if the counselor is also the client's business partner. Insofar as a dual role relationship impairs the therapist's ability to make judgments promotive of client welfare, the therapist has a moral responsibility to avoid such a relationship or to take appropriate steps to safeguard client welfare. One possible manner of dealing with a dual role relationship involving a conflict of interest is to inform the client that the conflict exists. In this way, clients are treated as autonomous agents with the power to go elsewhere if and when they so choose. However, while such an approach will accord with candor and consideration for client autonomy, it may not alone resolve the moral problem. The potential for client harm may still persist in cases in which the client elects to stick with the relationship. Non-maleficence--"first do no harm"-- should then take priority. A further approach aiming at mitigating potential for client harm is to make full disclosure to the client and seek consultation and supervision in dealing with the conflict (Corey & Herlihy, 1997). According to Corey and Herlihy (1997), while this approach may be more "challenging" than avoiding dual role relationships altogether, "a willingness to grapple with the ethical complexities of day-to-day practice is a hallmark of professionalism." However, the client's ability to "grapple" with the situation must also be taken into account. In...
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