Clinical Psychology and Dual Relationships

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Professional boundaries are vital in the study and practice of clinical psychology. Boundary crossing and boudary violations can have a profound impact on the therapist/patient relationship and on the overall mental health of the patient. Dual relationships are the source of one such boundary violation. When a therapist develops a conflict of interest with a patient whether before or during treatment, they are ethically bound to put their patient’s needs in front of their own.

Dual relationships cross the boundaries of a professional relationship and according to the text: “No matter how challenging, the maintenance of clear and professional boundaries in all professional relationships is incumbent upon all psychologists (Plante, 2005).”  This means that psychologists are responsible for keeping their relationships with their clients and their fellow psychologists on a professional and even level.  During week four, the second discussion question directly addressed the dangers of dual relationships and their impact on the field of clinical psychology.

When the psychologist and the patient develop an extracurricular relationship, this dual relationship can threaten the psychologist’s ability to act impartially as a therapist and the patient’s ability to receive proper treatment in their vulnerable state. If psychologists are not held accountable to prevent this type of behavior, they can actually harm the reputation of all clinical psychologists.  Personal relationships imply a bias and the private relationship can cross over into therapy and treatment.  The term “conflict of interest” applies to dual relationships because no matter how impartial a psychologist tries to be, their own emotions may color their trained perceptions.

Plante, T. G. (2005). Contemporary Clinical Psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley


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