NB: This standard was written prior to the publication of the policy on Sexual Contact With Former Clients Within 5 Year Post-Termination of Care.
Whenever possible, members should avoid dual or multiple relationships with clients in addition to their professional one (e.g. relative, friend, student, employee). In remote areas with few other psychotherapists, it may be impossible not to have some other relationship with a client (if only as a member of the same small community). In those circumstances, the member must use his/her professional judgment, and ensure that safeguards are in place, e.g. appropriate supervision, ensuring that any conflict-of-interest concerns are addressed, etc.
Multiple relationships are prone to cause confusion for both the member and the client. For example, the therapist or client may not know in which relationship certain information is being provided.
If the member is in a position of authority over the client (e.g. as employer), the client may feel the need to acquiesce to a request from the member as a therapist. Dual or multiple relationships may also affect the member’s professional judgment (e.g. the member might say things to a client who is also a friend that s/he would not otherwise say to a client).
Note: Students in some psychotherapy training programs undertake personal psychotherapy as part of program requirements. In this instance, teachers in the program may engage with students in therapy. An important safeguard would be to ensure that a member engaged in such therapy does not also evaluate the students’ academic or other performance in the program.
Relationships with former clients
The College urges members in the strongest possible terms to avoid romantic or sexual relationships with former clients. In most cases, relationships with former clients are inappropriate, inadvisable, and potentially damaging to the parties concerned.
Despite this proscription, the experience of some regulatory colleges is that an outright prohibition of such relationships is unworkable, especially where a relationship may develop many years later, and the original client-therapist relationship was relatively brief.
Members must, therefore, carefully consider the following factors before entering into such a relationship with a former client:
- the nature and length of the former client-therapist relationship;
- the issues presented by the client in therapy;
- the length of time since the client-therapist relationship ended; and
- the vulnerability of the client.
Members should understand that it may never be appropriate to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship with a former client, e.g. where the therapeutic relationship was long or intense, or if a power imbalance continues to exist between the member and the former client.
Ultimately, a member may be called upon to defend his/her actions before a panel of peers, if a complaint is made against the member.
Romantic relationships with current clients are totally unacceptable. Any sexual relationship with a client is considered sexual abuse and can lead to revocation of a member’s Certificate of Registration.
The Standard: Dual or Multiple Relationships
Except in extenuating circumstances where relevant circumstances have been considered, members avoid dual or multiple relationships with clients.
Demonstrating the Standard
A member demonstrates compliance with the standard, for example, by:
- avoiding entering into a therapeutic relationship with a family member, colleague, or friend unless there is no other option available for providing the required service, and doing so only after informing the client about the potential boundary and conflict-of-interest issues involved;
- avoiding the creation of dual relationships with clients, as well as behaviours that may lead to the creation of dual relationships (e.g. inappropriate or non-therapeutic self-disclosure, gift giving, meeting outside the clinical setting);
- always avoiding romantic and/or sexual relationships with clients;
- in most instances, avoiding personal, romantic or sexual relationships with former clients.
Note: College publications containing practice standards, guidelines or directives should be considered by all members in the care of their clients and in the practice of the profession. College publications are developed in consultation with the profession and describe current professional expectations. It is important to note that these College publications may be used by the College or other bodies in determining whether appropriate standards of practice and professional responsibilities have been maintained.