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Multiple Role Relationships and How one Might Occur in Professional Psychology

Multiple Role Relationships and How One Might Occur in Professional Psychology

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes a multiple-role relationship as a relationship that can occur when a therapist is in a professional role with a client and concurrently in another role with the same person and another person in a close relationship with the client (Behnke, 2004). Such a relationship can also occur if the therapist, in their professional capacity, gets into a personal relationship with a person closely related to a client they have a professional relationship with or there is a promise or potential for developing such a personal or professional relationship in the future.

A brief example of a multiple-role relationship is a scenario involving a psychologist seeing a man having marital issues mostly related to the client’s ability to be sexually viable in the relationship. In this case, the psychologist accepts the case to help the man regain his manliness. However, the psychologist meets up with the man’s wife after sessions and develops a personal and sexual relationship after she makes multiple advances on him. This scenario could be potentially problematic as it is not only unethical but also a breach of professionalism and impairs the ability of the psychologist to provide effective therapeutic services to the client. It can also lead to further breakdown of the client’s family and legal suits if the affair gets exposed.

Multiple-role relationships can be avoided by first avoiding getting into such relationships in the first place. In cases where such relationships have already occurred, they can be handled professionally by addressing the root cause and telling the other party why such a relationship needs to end (Knapp et al., 2013). A multiple-role relationship is permissible if it is unavoidable and interminable, such as in cases of judicial and administrative processes (Behnke, 2004). Additionally, it is permissible in cases where it has already been developed, and the multiple-role relationship does not impair professionalism and professional effectiveness.


Behnke, S. (2004). Ethics rounds–Multiple relationships and APA’s new Ethics Code: Values and applications. Ethics Rounds, 35(1), 66.

Knapp, S., Handelsman, M. M., Gottlieb, M. C., & VandeCreek, L. D. (2013). The dark side of professional ethics. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice44(6), 371–377.


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Prompt: Define a multiple-role relationship and how one might occur in professional psychology. Provide a brief example or scenario of a multiple-role relationship. Discuss why your example scenario could be potentially problematic. How can multiple-role relationships be either avoided or handled professionally? How might this relationship be permissible?

Multiple Role Relationships and How one Might Occur in Professional Psychology

Multiple Role Relationships and How one Might Occur in Professional Psychology

In response to your peers, discuss the ramifications for the professional and the person affected by the professional’s actions or inaction in the scenario your peer provided.

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