Some great answers here from some very well-boundaried professionals!
However, since sexual dual relationships are still the #1 source of ethical violations in the mental health professions in the U.S., I want to offer some practical strategies to those clinicians who do find themselves attracted to clients. These strategies are more behavioral than “self talk,” but I think they get at the spirit of the question.
- It’s very common for mental health providers to have feelings of attraction for clients. If you are one of them, don’t worry, it is possible to navigate this without causing harm to your clients, which (of course) is your primary, even only, concern.
- As others have mentioned, remember your clients (or “patients” if you’re in a medical setting) are vulnerable and you are a health care professional. You hold the power in this dyad, or triad, or whatever. Wield it carefully. Even if your feelings appear to be reciprocated, it’s not an equal relationship, and acting on those feelings can be very harmful in ways that clients can’t see. Do no harm.
- Seek supervision and consultation immediately and often. Make sure that person is competent to provide clinical supervision, is familiar with the laws and ethics in your profession and jurisdiction, and doesn’t shame you for your feelings.
- This is one of the top areas that supervisees and clinicians claim they DON’T seek supervision on, due to shame. Set that aside and reach out anyway.
- Your supervisor or consultant will probably ask you to do some work around your own “countertransference” and perhaps seek your own personal counseling in order to sort through things. This is OK! Mental health professionals are human beings, and there is nothing at all wrong with needing counseling. Put another way, this is a chance to walk the talk. If you are ashamed to seek counseling yourself, how can you possibly destigmatize it for your clients?
- Sometimes. Sometimes. For some very experienced, seasoned, well-supervised clinicians: The feelings of attraction can offer a therapeutic window into how others in the client’s life respond to the client, and may MAY offer insight into how best to help them. Tread carefully here.
- You may need to refer out if your feelings are getting in the way of your ability to provide competent, beneficent care.
- As with any ethical dilemma - consult, consult, consult.