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Pursuing an Ethical Post-Therapy Relationship

Asked by on with 1 answer:

Can you point towards resources for navigating rare cases of carefully considered, consensual, post-therapy romantic relationships between client and therapist? Very rarely, there are legitimate cases of two people wanting to be above board in their pursuit of a relationship. Should we not have resources and guidelines for such situations?

Imagine a psychologist in her mid 30s is seeing a 50-something psychologist for intensive psychotherapy. Both are single. After two years of personal work for anxiety, with major gains in therapy, a strong ‘transference’ develops. Therapist and client explore and process these feelings at length, in a thoughtful and well-boundaried way. This phase of therapy lasts for yet another year.

All things considered, if both parties are now curious about their options for pursuing a romantic relationship, what are their options? Imagine that both have gotten outside consult, and both are sorting out the possibility of a relationship.

Is there any way to proceed with a romantic relationship, without risking licensure and potential legal ramifications? Clients and therapists have ample access to horror stories and warnings against post-therapy relations. But in cases where it has been deeply and thoroughly consider, it seems that people should have access to the ‘right way’ to manage these very rare circumstances.

I understand if you choose not to publish this. But your collective thoughts could be helpful. Even a list of things to consider would be fine.

Pursuing an Ethical Post-Therapy Relationship

Answered by on -

A.

I find your question to be highly confusing. Let me explain. You are asking me, a licensed clinician, if there would be legal and licensure problems for the two of you to continue your relationship. I can understand why you would ask that of a licensed professional. That is not at all confusing. The confusing part is how I might’ve answered that question under those circumstances. I might have said “you should find a couple of licensed clinicians and ask for their professional advice.” And that is the very confusing part of the question that you have asked of me. According to your letter both you and the person that you are having a relationship with, are both licensed professional psychologists.

I find it very confusing, and truly so, that two licensed clinicians would not know the answer to the question that you’ve asked of me. If neither of you were licensed clinicians, then I could well understand why you would want to consult with a licensed professional, after all it’s easier to write to someone on the internet than it would be to make an appointment and undergo the expense of consulting in person with a licensed therapist.

But according to what you have clearly stated, you are both licensed psychologists. Why would my opinion or knowledge be greater than or better than your own? Perhaps I have completely missed the purpose and intent of your question and if so I apologize, but I truly am perplexed as to why two licensed professionals would feel unqualified to answer their own licensure or other psychology-based questions.

Please allow me to add something that you have not asked. People fall in love all the time. It could be at the bus stop, at the coffee shop, at the office or the car repair shop. People fall in love. Can they fall in love at their therapist’s office? Of course, they can but is it real love or something that has resulted from the therapy?

The therapist listens intently with deep and real concern. He or she does not do so because they are in love with the client or patient but do so because it is part of the therapy. However, to the client or patient, this displayed concern can be construed as a love relationship because after all in a normal, nonprofessional, relationship this type of displayed behavior would be indicative of someone loving or falling in love or at least caring about you.

From the very beginning the client expects the therapist to have the answers and intentionally or unintentionally defers to the therapist. This is good, and perhaps essential to the therapeutic process but it is not good in a “normal” relationship. In a good relationship both parties must have equal power. Perhaps not in every area but when the relationship is considered in total, adding up the power scores for every area, in the end the power should be very close to equal.

This is difficult to achieve when a movement from therapeutic relationship to personal relationship is attempted. You didn’t ask but I have included this because I think it is very cogent. Good luck.

Dr. Kristina Randle

Pursuing an Ethical Post-Therapy Relationship

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2018). Pursuing an Ethical Post-Therapy Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2018/04/26/pursuing-an-ethical-post-therapy-relationship/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Apr 2018 (Originally: 26 Apr 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 25 Apr 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.