Can Client and Therapist Behave Like Friends?

-Mental Health Services

I was wondering if it’s okay or allowed if my therapist and I did things outside of the office, like as friends?

In general, the ethical codes of mental health disciplines (including psychology, social work, and psychiatry) strongly discourage “dual relationships” with clients/patients. Most firmly prohibited are sexual relationships, which have been damaging to many individuals (as well as the careers of many therapists). But other kinds of dual relationships can also have an adverse impact. Because of the parent-like aspects of the therapist’s role as well as the client’s openness with private information, a therapy relationship contains the potential for exploitation of various kinds, e.g., if there were also a business relationship (say, the client invests in a project in which the therapist has an interest). While friendships are equal, two-way connections, therapeutic alliances focus on the client’s concerns; socializing can blur this boundary and interfere with the clinical work. (This is only a partial review of potential adverse consequences.) There are exceptions, of course, such as chance encounters and treatments that require exposure to real-life stimuli.

Because therapists and clients share intimate material and commonly develop positive feelings toward one another, it is easy for both to wish to expand into the realm of friendship. But since there is a potential for harm, those lawyers and ethicists who advise mental health clinicians almost always warn them to avoid personal relationships with clients/patients not only during the treatment, but indefinitely afterward.

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