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One dual relationship that is always considered harmful is a sexual relationship with a client.

The 2005 revision of the ACA Code of Ethics reiterates and expands the ban on sexual relationships with clients.

Counselors are ethically mandated to approach dual relationships with care and caution.

Informed consent is a critical component of engaging in nonsexual dual relationships with clients, and this includes specifying the potential negative consequences of such a relationship.

It goes on to say that “Before engaging in nonprofessional relationships, supervisors discuss with supervisees and document the rationale for such interactions, potential benefits or drawbacks, and anticipated consequences for the supervisee.” The 2005 ethics code addresses other dual relationships as well, including relationships between counselor educators and students and relationships between researchers and research participants. sets guidelines for counselor educators and students that are similar to the ethical guidelines for supervisors and supervisees. virtually mirrors these rules for researchers and their research participants.

The 2005 ACA Code of Ethics clarifies that nonsexual dual relationships are not prohibited; however, navigating dual relationships can be challenging.

The 2005 code also provides examples of potentially beneficial interactions, including “attending a formal ceremony (e.g., a wedding/commitment ceremony or graduation); purchasing a service or product provided by a client (excepting unrestricted bartering); hospital visits to an ill family member; mutual membership in a professional association, organization or community” (Standard A.5.d.).

When engaging in a potentially beneficial relationship with a client or former client, however, the counselor is expected to “document in case records, prior to the interaction (when feasible), the rationale for such an interaction, the potential benefit and anticipated consequences for the client or former client and other individuals significantly involved with the client or former client.” Standard A.5.d., “Potentially Beneficial Interactions,” further clarifies that “Such interactions should be initiated with appropriate client consent,” and if harm occurs because of the nonprofessional interactions, counselors are expected to “show evidence of an attempt to remedy such harm.” In settings such as rural communities and schools, nonsexual dual relationships are often impossible to avoid.

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The Ethical Code Revision Task Force felt that this instruction was being interpreted as a prohibition on all dual relationships, including relationships that could be beneficial to the client (see “Ethics Update” in the March 2006 issue of Counseling Today).

Thus, the 2005 code revisions clarify that certain nonsexual interactions with clients can be beneficial, and therefore, those relationships are not banned (Standard A.5.c.).

The recent revision of the ACA Code of Ethics significantly changes the ethical guidelines related to dual relationships.

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