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Question: Ethics in Couples Counseling

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Is it ethical for a clinician to simultaneously treat an individual and that individual's couple?

Yes -- it is ethical
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No -- it is unethical
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It is a gray area
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Question: Ethics in Couples Counseling

Postby jameshcolorado » Fri Sep 07, 2018 6:23 pm

Say an LCSW begins treating a pair of individuals in couples counseling and, during the initial session, also decides to see one of them for individual counseling on an ongoing basis. The clinician then meets individually with one member of the couple a few times for collateral information to the ongoing couples counseling while continuing to meet the other member individually for mental health counseling, also on an ongoing basis.

It seems to me this would create a conflict of interest. For one thing, human bias would probably play a role since the clinician would develop a closer relationship with one client than the other. More importantly, the clinician would be torn two ways in any conflict -- and conflict is inevitable and perhaps desirable in couples counseling. So the clinician would be in an impossible situation of owing various duties (confidentiality, fidelity, etc.) to both the couple as a unit and to one member of the couple. As one example, the clinician would probably have a duty to the individual seeking mental health counseling to make him feel safe in disclosing anything, while also having a duty to the couple to avoid "keeping secrets." How could the clinician maintain ethical obligations to the individual and to the couple as a whole?

Would this situation be impermissible and unethical as a "dual relationship" or something else, permissible and ethical somehow, or in some kind of gray area?

Thanks for any insight you can provide.
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