To cross or not to cross: ethical boundaries in psychological practice
Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association
School of Education
This article examines multiple relationships and discusses ethical boundaries in psychology practice. Correct handling of potential multiple relationships is important for staff at educational facilities, where students may simultaneously act as counselling clients, teaching assistants, peer supervisors, supervisees, mentors, mentees, research partners, etc. The basis for the discussion includes the role of the client-therapist power differential, fiduciary duty and the code of ethics. An overview is given regarding types of multiple relationships, differentiation between potentially beneficial boundary crossings and potentially detrimental boundary violations and the ‘slippery slope’ concept. Taxonomy of boundary violators considers individual differences, incompetence and situational circumstances. Recommendations for risk management include training in ethical standards and decision making techniques, self-awareness, supervision and adherence to good professional standards in general. Opportunities for further research include the correction of methodological errors in older surveys, more research regarding the efficacy of training and interventions for boundary violations and efforts to provide more tools for risk assessment. It is important to acknowledge that differentiation between boundary crossings and boundary violations can be challenging: whilst practitioners always need to guard against boundary violations, the literature offers examples where boundary crossings may be therapeutic. Ultimately, the therapist makes a choice about how to deal with any given boundary; and the therapist needs to make this choice from the viewpoint of fiduciary duty with the client’s best interest in mind.