Ethics: Multiple Relationships 1

Psychologist may be faced with the possible multiple role situation in our particular professional setting. Multiple role situations are when a psychologist has a professional relationship with their client (as in the therapist and the client relationship) but also has (or had) another relationship with that same client, such as being their relative or lover. It is a psychologist’s duty to eliminate the multiple role relationships with their clients when these multiple roles are unethical. Unethical multiple role relationships would be those that cause impairment on the part of the psychologist, causing incompetence or ineffectiveness in the core objectives of the therapist/client relationship.

It is easy to have multiple relationships, as a psychologist who lives in the same neighborhood or city that they work in. Not all multiple role relationships, however, are considered to be unethical. The psychologist and client could belong to the same community functions such as the Neighborhood Watch, or the same congregation. The psychologist and client could have children who go to school together, or the psychologist could be waited on by their client who works in a neighborhood restaurant. We cannot completely alter our lifestyles and avoid the supermarket or church that we normally attend in order to avoid having run-ins with our clients. It is, however, necessary to make sure that the relationship roles in which we establish are ethical and do not cause harm.

There could be outside forces or unforeseen circumstances that may arise in which a multiple role relationship develops or will develop. This could happen if a psychologist just moves into a neighborhood where one of his clients is a teacher to the psychologist’s child, or if the psychologist starts dating someone whose family member turns out to be one of their clients. If an unforeseen situation occurs, it is the duty of the psychologist to take all the necessary steps in order to resolve the possible multiple role relationship before it damages the client or the therapist/client relationship. This may result in the client being referred to another psychologist, in order to keep safe the best interests of the client.

It is the psychologist’s duty to minimize the risk of harmful, multiple role relationships with a client. The psychologist needs to ethically analyze a possible dual relationship with a client to determine if in fact these roles would be unethical. Multiple roles, such as sexual relations, or business partnerships, are more obviously unethical, but there are many roles in which therapist and client may have that are not unethical. It can be a small world, however, even when a secondary role with a client is not necessarily or technically unethical, the psychologist still runs the risk of causing harm to the therapist/client relationship, so it is advantageous for a psychologist to fully examine the secondary roles that they have with their clients to make sure the therapist/client relationship is safeguarded.


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