Dual-Relationships and Boundaries Paper

Dual-Relationships and Boundaries Paper


Dual-Relationships and Boundaries

In most professions, the ideas of boundaries and dual relationships are discussed heavily within their code of ethics. The psychological field is no different. The American Psychological Association or APA goes into great detail when discussing dual relationships and defining boundaries in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct doctrine. In psychology, the term, dual relationship refers to any situation in which multiple roles exist between a therapist and a client (Zur, 2015). As dual relationships and the crossing of boundaries tend to go hand in hand, the two issues have caused a great deal of concern within the field of psychology. The crossing of boundaries and the establishment of relationships between client and therapist has caused for numerous complaints against psychologists resulting in the revocation of license. Dual relationships cannot only result in the loss of license for the psychologist but can also harm the client, as well. In this paper, ethical and unethical actions in regards to dual relationships will be explored, a scenario where a dual relationship occurs will be analyzed, and challenges associated with boundary issues, within the field of psychology, will be discussed.

Ethical and Unethical Actions Associated with Dual Relationships

While psychologists have to be aware of unethical actions, not all dual relationships are unethical. Some ethical actions that could be taken on in this situation would be when a psychologist was to serve as a clinical supervisor or dissertation mentors for students enrolled in one of their graduate classes because supervision, mentoring, and teaching are all educational roles. These interactions with the client and psychologist should not cause any harm or impair the psychologist abilities to perform their job duties effectively. The psychologist will also need to avoid causing harm to the person with whom they have a professional or personal relationship. In the ethics code, Standard 3.05b reads, “If a psychologist finds that, due to unforeseen factors, a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the psychologist takes reasonable steps to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and maximal compliance with the Ethics Code” (Fisher, 2013).

The unethical actions that can be taken would be that the psychologist could treat her close friend’s daughter, but this could jeopardize the friendship. Taking on this situation is not the correct thing to do. In the ethics code, Standard 3.05a states, “(a) A multiple relationship occurs when a psychologist is in a professional role with a person and (1) at the same time is in another role with the same person” (Fisher, 2013). If a psychologist gets involved in this situation, they will not be able to defend themselves in front of the licensing board because this behavior will not be condone. It is better to avoid this situation to escape repercussions.

Defining Dual Relationships

A dual relationship is a situation where multiple roles exist by the psychologist. An example of a dual relationship would be a psychologist provides services for a friend, co-worker, or a family member. The dual role sets in when the psychologist assumes more than one role. There are many types of dual relationships. For the sake of this assignment, we will explore a situation, which is a social relationship, a friend of a psychologist needs a favor for her teenage daughter who has been having difficulty.

Analyzing the Scenario

In this particular scenario, the relationship between the psychologist and woman asking for services happens to be a close friend wanting help to straighten out her daughter. Adding the daughter into the scenario will then create a multiple relationship.

Although this is not against any ethical code, and the ethical code now allows professional counselors to interact with clients outside of a counseling session under certain conditions, this psychologist is taking her services to a close friend to help her friend with her daughter.

Ethical Issues Presented by Dual Relationships

In this scenario, you have a dual relationship that is further enhanced when the daughter is included. At this point, we now have a dual relationship that has taken on the concept of having a multiple relationship. The ethical issues that this type of relationship presents are several. According to Doverspike (2008), “In the case of foreseeable or contemplated dual relationships, APA (2002) Ethical Standard 3.05(a) contains a caution: “A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists” (p. 17). In this situation, the psychologist would be violating his responsibility to provide treatment that is within the boundaries that practicing psychologist abide by. His ability to make sound decisions and judgments would be clouded because of his close relationship with the mother. This can be said concerning the daughter and the mother as well. There would further be conflicts of interest between the three of them as this type of situation is not necessarily agreed to openly by all parties. What would constitute the basis for ethical violations is the psychologist to knowingly enter into an agreement to provide therapy in a multiple relationship of this nature. In plain English, dual relationships involve concepts that clients may more readily understand as conflicts of interest, a term that is often more easily used when discussing the potential problems of engaging in dual roles with clients.” (Doverspike, 2008). Once a psychologist decides to take on a client, he must put at the forefront of his decision to do so based on what is in the best interest of the client to ensure that he is practicing ethically. In the case of unforeseeable dual relationships, APA (2002) Ethical Standard 3.05(b) states, “If a psychologist finds that, due to unforeseen factors, a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the psychologist takes reasonable steps to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and maximal compliance with the Ethics Code” (p. 1065). Resolving the dilemma of duality may include several options such as discussing the matter with the client, consulting with a colleague, considering termination of the secondary role, considering termination of the primary professional role, and so forth. Regardless of the option, the ultimate ethics question is, “What is in the best interest of the client?” Doverspike, (2008).

Challenges Presented by Boundary Issues in Professional Psychology

In terms of boundaries, in this particular scenario, a few issues can arise. Due to the friendship between the psychologist and woman, if this mother does not see positive results it would affect the friendship she once had with this psychologist. The psychologist could be accused by the mother of taking her daughter’s side or the daughter could claim that the psychologist is taking her mother’s side. Either way, it could cause more harm than good. A few examples of the harm it could cause it 1) losing a friendship with the mother and 2) creating a hindrance of the daughter wanting to speak to any psychologist after this intervention.

In terms of boundary issues in professional psychology, in general, boundary violations and boundary crossings in psychotherapy refer to any deviation from traditional, strict, ‘only in the office,’ emotionally distant forms of therapy. They mostly refer to issues of self-disclosure, length and place of sessions, physical touch, activities outside the office, gift exchange, social and other non-therapeutic contact and various forms of dual relationships. They may all be seen as a departure from the traditional psychoanalytic proceedings (Zur, 2015). When faced with boundary crossing it sometimes turns to a boundary violation. What constitutes harmful boundary violations according to one theoretical orientation may be considered helpful boundary crossings according to another orientation. However, boundary crossing is normal and sometimes unavoidable in communities. In fact, boundary crossings in some cases may prove to be beneficial, provide an important part of the treatment plan, and even help strengthen the client/patient relationship

The challenge is how to define appropriate boundaries, and some boundary crossings may result in mixed results.


Dual relationships can arise in a number of different forms or fashions. Dual or multiple relationships between a psychologist and client can be either ethical or unethical. When the relationship crosses boundaries into the unethical territory is when a problem arises. In the case of a psychologist having a few sessions with a friend’s daughter, many problems can arise from that, and the psychologist can find herself breaking many rules when it comes to terms of confidentiality, setting of sessions and even billing. Psychologists have to abide by the APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct in order to protect themselves and their clients from harm.


Doverspike, W. F. (2008). Dual relationships and psychotherapy. Georgia Psychologist, 62(3),


Zur, O. (2015). Dual Relationships, Multiple Relationships, Boundaries, Boundary Crossings &

Boundary Violations in Psychotherapy, Counseling & Mental Health. Retrieved from Counseling & Mental Health : http://www.zurinstitute.com/dualrelationships.html

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