Ethical Dilemmas: Termination and Sexual Relationships


In this paper, I look at two cases of multiple relationships. The first case involves the case of a client who is terminating and requests to initiate another relationship, social in nature. The second case involves a client who confesses to have sexual attraction to their psychologist. To solve the cases, the welfare of the client, and the legality and professionalism of the situation are considered.

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Ethical Dilemmas: Termination and Sexual Relationships

Psychologists sometimes encounter situations in which clients initiate a discussion in which they intend to have multiple relationships with them. Two very common scenarios that take place are termination and sexual relationships. The dilemma begins as to whether to accept the relationship or to discourage it. This paper intends to champion the thesis that cases of multiple relationships should be resolved only on the basis of how they affect the performance of the professional, the risk they pose on the client and level of their necessity.

Assuming I have a client who communicates his or her desire to begin a relationship, other than professional, after termination, a few aspects of the scenario will need to be analyzed. According to Behnke (2004), a multiple relationship becomes unethical if, it causes impairment of the objectiveness, effectiveness or competence of the psychologist, or poses a risk of exploitation or harm to the client. For a patient who is terminating, the possibility of impairment of objectivity, effectiveness or competence of the psychologist is barely possible. The issue that should therefore be analyzed is the risk of exploitation or harm to the client.

There are many possibilities of harming or exploiting a client by allowing a multiple relationship to take place. One way I could harm my client is by straining them. My client is most likely in the final phase of recovery. If I dictate when we meet, or how long we socialize, I may become self-centered and find myself straining and even back-tracking the treatment of my client. Another way it would be unethical to allow the relationship to take place is by causing fear to the client. Whatever the source of fear, I would suggest that the relationship is only self-centered and not mutual or to the benefit of the client.

Exploitive scenarios also exist. These are situations in which the psychologist only cares to benefit from the situation alone. If, for example, I allow the relationship to exist for financial reasons, it should be termed as unethical and avoided. Secondly, if the relationship is only beneficial to me, it is again exploitive and therefore unethical. Such relationships should therefore be discouraged and avoided.

On the other hand, there are scenarios where I would encourage a relationship to begin after the client has terminated. First, if the relationship would cause growth on the part of the client, then it should be encouraged. This is because the client’s growth will contribute towards their full recovery. A good example is where the psychologist accepts to adopt a client. Since this relationship is beneficial to the client, upon investigation, then it should be allowed. Secondly, if the relationship is mutually developmental on both the client and I, I would most likely encourage it.  Finally, I would encourage the relationship to continue if it strives towards building something that strives to give back to the world. In some cases, when a clients health improves, they may feel that doing something to give back to the society by building a school, training for a marathon or even helping a certain group of people will make them feel better. If they sought my help in doing so, I would highly encourage it.

When looking at my options, however, I would be very cautious on the kind of relationship we are building so as to ensure that whatever the relationship is, it will not result in legal problems. This can be done by ensuring that the relationship will only promote healthy and legal activities and will be constructive and safe for both the client and I.

The second case is where the client confesses sexual attraction to me, his or her psychologist. These feelings are to be expected (Plaut, 2008). According to Plaut (2008), although sexual relationships are not always harmful to the client, the risk of harm is usually high enough to necessitate absolute avoidance. First, in dealing with this situation, taking a professional approach is necessary. This will involve discussing, with the client, the factors that may have contributed to their confession. These may include; dressing, jewelry, scents and verbal innuendo. It will also be necessary to put it out clear that encouraging such a relationship to exist will be unprofessional and is destructive to the client.

Legally, a sexual relationship is out of the question. The reason why this stand is so absolute is because it causes too many risks to the client that its benefits, if any, are outweighed. Objectivity, effectiveness and competitiveness are also highly affected making it hard for the professional to deliver. It also may result in abuse and exploitation of the client. Eventually, we find that the sexual relationship degrades the profession.

In dealing with the situation, it will be necessary to keep a professional distance between the client and I. I will also try and analyze which of my actions may have promoted the feelings and work on myself. I may also require consulting others in my profession if the situation persists. In the most absolute scenario, I will communicate to my client the necessity of transferring her to a colleague to complete her therapy there.

In conclusion, boundary issues cannot be completely avoided. When handling such issues, it is necessary to look at all aspects objectively and make a decision that does not have negative effects on either the client, the professional or the profession. Sexual relationships should however be discouraged as they are more likely to harm the client than they are to help them. When making the decision, it is necessary to ensure such a decision is legal, safe and professionally acceptable.


Nickel, M, B. (2004), Professional Boundaries; The dilemma of dual and multiple Relationships in Rural clinical practice, Counseling and Clinical psychology journal, 1(1),(17-22)

Behnke, S., Dr. (2004, January), Ethics Rounds: Multiple Relationships and APA’s new Ethics code: values and applications

Plaut., S. M. (2008), EDUCATION: Sexual and nonsexual boundaries in professional relationships: principles and teaching guidelines, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 23(1), 85-94

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