Waiting period for dating your therapist

Petitioner repeatedly testified that he made “mistakes in judgment,” rationalized his behavior with former clients, was confused about dual relationships, and misinterpreted “vague language” in the code of ethics in a way that was convenient for him. Even without a set of exact rules and regulations, surely the most educated amongst us are expected to understand values such as, honesty, integrity and honor.

Petitioner suggests that under the current code, once the two-year waiting period has expired, a psychologist may ethically “date a former client.” We decline to adopt petitioner's interpretation of the ethical principles of psychologists with regard to sexual relationships with former clients. The primary goal of the ethical code for psychologists is the “welfare and protection of the individuals and groups with whom psychologists work.” Ethical Code 1992 at 1599 (Preamble). He was instructed by the code to avoid dual relationships that could impair his professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation. Although the 1981 Ethical Code provides examples of dual relationships that a psychologist should avoid, it is explicit that the list is not exhaustive.

Examples of such dual relationships include, but are not limited to, research with and treatment of employees, students, supervisees, close friends, or relatives. Petitioner supports this argument by noting that the American Psychological Association subsequently amended the ethical guidelines in 1992, stating, “[P]sychologists do not engage in sexual intimacies with a former therapy patient or client for at least two years after cessation or termination of professional services.” Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 47 (no. Psychologist 1597, § 4.07(a) at 1605 (December 1992) [hereinafter Ethical Code 1992].


If engaged in such activity when they become aware of their personal problems, they seek competent professional assistance to determine whether they should suspend, terminate, or limit the scope of their professional and/or scientific activities. After a careful examination of the whole record, we find substantial evidence to support the Board's conclusion that petitioner violated Principle 2(f). How unfortunate when professional codes of conduct are used literally to define acceptable behavior.

Under the Psychology Practice Act, the Board has authority to discipline any psychologist found “guilty of ․ unprofessional, or unethical conduct as defined in ․ the then-current code of ethics of the American Psychological Association․” N. Hess: A Step Backward in the Prohibition of Sexual Exploitation of a Patient by a Psychotherapist, 41 S. Accordingly, they refrain from undertaking any activity in which their personal problems are likely to lead to inadequate performance or harm to a client, colleague, student, or research participant. We are mindful that people who seek the counsel and guidance of psychologists are not sent home with “codes of ethical conduct.” Rather, they are expected to draw from their own morals, values, and religious teachings to determine right from wrong.

Psychologists make every effort to avoid dual relationships that could impair their professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation. Petitioner asserts that he did not violate the above provision because it did not explicitly prohibit romantic involvement with former clients.

They avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of such persons. Psychologist, 633, 636 (June 1981) [hereinafter Ethical Code 1981].


The scope of review on appeal from a lower court's consideration of a final agency decision under the Administrative Procedure Act, N. The code specifically states that “sexual intimacies with a former therapy patient or client are ․ frequently harmful to the patient or client, and because such intimacies undermine public confidence in the psychology profession and thereby deter the public's use of needed services, psychologists do not engage in sexual intimacies with former therapy patients and clients even after a two-year interval except in the most unusual circumstances.” Id., § 4.07(b) at 1605. Patients often conduct internal dialogues with former therapists which involve imaginary conversations about feelings, decisions and self-evaluation. For these reasons, many psychologists adopt the position “ ‘[o]nce a client, always a client.’ ” Slaughter, supra, at 615 (quoting Leonard J. Malouf, Keeping Up the Good Work: A Practitioner's Guide to Mental Health Ethics 53-65 (1992)). In the case sub judice, the Psychology Board determined that petitioner was in violation of the ethical principle regarding dual relationships. The purpose of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists is to “protect the public from ․ unprofessional conduct by persons licensed to practice psychology.” N. Contrary to petitioner's permissive approach to dating former clients, the 1992 Ethical Code strongly discourages involvement between therapist and patient, even after the expiration of a two year waiting period. It never suggests that dual relationships of a sexual or social nature are permissible after therapy is terminated.



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