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If a person with whom a counselor or therapist has had a personal relationship approaches that professional for therapeutic help, when, if ever, is it ethical for the professional to begin a counseling relationship? For example, if a friend from college asks for therapy, can one agree to that? Why or why not?

It is probably best not to provide therapy to a person with whom one has had a personal relationship. There are just too many opportunities for conflicts to arise. However, under certain circumstances, that individual may be the only one who can help. If that is the case, the potential for being helpful against the risk of being harmful would need to be weighed.

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Under most circumstances, it would be best to avoid providing therapeutic services for someone with whom you have had a personal relationship. Even if you are no longer close, old dynamics mean that it might be hard to stay objective, professional, and keep a proper perspective. If you have mutual friends and acquaintances, you might find yourself in a situation in which confidentiality could be compromised or a conflict arises. If at all possible, it is best to refer them to another colleague.

However, there may be some specific situations in which the ethical thing to do would be to provide some sort of services. For instance, you might be a specialist, and your friend needs exactly what you offer. If there is no other specialist in the area, it may be better that you offer them something rather than denying them access to the services that they need. Or, if this person is currently in a crisis and needs immediate help, then you could reason that the ethical thing to do would be to intervene, at least for the time being. In short, it's best to try to avoid a situation like the one in your question. However, specific circumstances may compel you to provide services if no one else can.

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