By David Joel Miller.
This time love is not the answer.
We thoroughly enjoy our romance. Everyone can connect with the story of Cinderella and the price, wouldn’t it be nice if every commoner girl could find and marry her prince charming?
There is a whole category of books devoted to romance. There are plenty of films that script out the story of someone who finally meets this wonderful person who makes their life complete, and they live happily ever after. It is when we try to bring that fantasy into the real world that things go wrong.
Men, particularly older men have this fantasy, that should some woman, usually, a beautiful younger woman, enter their life, they will have wild passionate sex and live happily ever after. As long as this stays in the world of fiction this may cause few problems.
When these fantasies make their way into the counseling room this looks less like a flowery romance and more like a fatal car crash viewed in slow motion.
It is not unusual for a client to find they are falling in love with their therapist. They may be weak, vulnerable and needing love and affection. Clinicians are taught to be aware of this and to work on helping the client learn to love again without taking unfair advantage of the client and becoming that new romantic partner.
Some codes of ethics say that a therapist or counselor should never date or become romantically involved. Some set limits, 2 years, five years or more. The thought here is that after many years of not being in a professional relationship, then should you meet a former client on a cruise or at a school function you might establish a relationship. Even here the counselor is supposed to make a note in the chart indicating they thought about this, that enough time has passed and they believe this will not harm the client.
This is critical; will falling in love with former client harm them? By the way, ending therapy and giving the client a love letter saying call me in two years on date X and then we can date. That is just as bad as starting up the relationship while the counselor is still seeing them.
Given all these warnings why do counselors still engage in romantic and sexual relationships with clients?
Every time the new professional magazine arrives we see a list of professionals whose licenses have been suspended or revoked. Counselors who started using drugs or abused alcohol is always a big one. But right up there, sometimes in first place, are the reports of therapists that engaged in sex with a client.
Why does this happen? What is the ethical loophole that people stick their heads through that ends up strangling them?
Frequently this ethics issue begins with the counselor entertaining the notion that yes sometimes it is possible to fall in love with a client and live happier ever after. No, they would not do it, but they can see how it might be all right sometimes for some counselors and clients.
This can also start with the idea that it is possible for a counselor to develop an outside social relationship or friendship, without it becoming sexual. Sometimes it starts with attending a social event, going to a movie or having dinner together. There are all the usual excuses, the client needs to feel safe going out, we are helping them learn to make friends or socialize.
But having once said that it may be OK to have some dual relationship with a client that sometimes it might be OK for some counselors and clients to fall in love and have a romantic sexual relationship, it becomes possible that this time, they and this client, that is one of those exceptions to the rule.
Once we start making exceptions, looking for loopholes, sooner or later we are at risk to put our heads through that hole. Why should we care if an occasional therapist has sex with a client, maybe the code of ethics is too strict?
We should care because those relationships are inherently unequal and have a serious potential to harm the weaker party, commonly this weaker person is the client.
Falling in love with a client, that one is always a bad idea. Beware the tendency to look for loopholes. Many an unwary counselor has tried to put their head through this one and ended up hung.
David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books