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Ethical Boundaries: Multiple Relationships

Consenting Adults or an Abuse of Power?

Maria is a graduate student who is pursuing her master's degree in counseling. She hopes to enter a Doctorate program after she graduates. Last semester, she was enrolled in a course taught by Professor Perry. Throughout the semester Dr. Perry went out of his way to encourage her and praise her work. After she completed the course, he asked her to serve as a teaching assistant under his supervision for the next term. Maria felt honored that he thought so highly on her abilities, and she accepted the position.
As a teaching assistant, Maria spent considerable time every week in the faculty office area and had frequent interactions with Dr. Perry regarding her work. Gradually, their conversations began to touch on personal issues. The personal interactions escalated to a point where Dr. Perry learned a great deal about Maria's private life and assisted her in making some important decisions, such as finding a new place to live.

Shortly after mid-term, following a conversation in which Dr. Perry had emphasized to Maria that he thought her to be bright and competent; he made a sexual advance toward her. She was flattered that someone in his position could be interested in her. The next week, he asked her to come into the office on a Saturday to help him with some work, and she found herself alone with him. He told her that he found her beautiful and was very attracted to her. He began to kiss her. Maria felt complimented but a bit confused. She willingly entered into a sexual relationship with him. They continued to work together regularly, with Dr. Perry supervising her work and constantly extolling her abilities. They began to have lunch together almost daily. About 6 months after the sexual relationship began, Maria started to question the relationship and her involvement with Dr. Perry. After considerable thought, she realized that she wasn't really attracted to him as a person, even though she admired his competencies as a Professor and enjoyed being so highly regarded by someone she admired professionally. She realized that her behavior was jeopardizing her relationship with her male friend who lived in another state and concluded that she didn't want to lose that relationship.

The next day she told Dr. Perry that she was no longer interested in having a personal relationship with him. He became upset and insisted that he was sure she would change her mind because he had been so good to her. No matter how hard she tried, the professor brushed aside her protestations. For the rest of the week, he continued to act as if nothing has changed. He was complimentary of her work, both in private and in front of others, and continued to behave flirtatiously when they were alone together.
Maria decided at this point to talk to a friend about the situation. She explained that she wants out the sexual relationship but is afraid she will lose her assistantship, on which she is now financially dependent. She needs to meet regularly with Dr. Perry as her supervisor, and she will need to take a course from him next semester. She just can't afford to have a bad relationship with him. Although she willingly agreed to this relationship in the beginning, she now feels trapped and manipulated.

Maria made her friend promise to keep their conversation in confidence, and she decided not to tell anyone else. Although her friend urged her to go to the department chair, Maria decided against doing this. She was embarrassed and felt foolish for getting herself into this situation to start with and was afraid that such action could affect her assistantship and her recommendations for doctoral studies. At this point, Maria is continuing to deal with Dr Perry on her own. When he suggests lunch or going or going out for a drink after work, she tell she is very busy. She avoids him whenever possible, but when she is with him she feels uncomfortable and pressured. She sees no way out of her situation and believes this is her only option until she graduates.

1. Brief summary of the case, and give the nature of the ethical dilemma you chose from this case study.

2. Depth and breadth of ethical dilemma (What makes it an ethical dilemma? Who are the parties affected by the dilemma?): ACA, plus AMHCA ethical code number and title related to the ethical dilemma.

3. Potential actions you would take or would have taken--as an ethical counselor, what would you have done differently? Consider which decision-making model you would use and why? How would your actions solve the dilemma? Given the actions you noted above, which do you think is the best solution and why?

4.Give an analysis of how you would apply an ethical decision-making model to this case study

Solution Preview

? Brief summary of the case, and give the nature of the ethical dilemma you chose from this case study.

Maria is a graduate student pursuing a counseling degree under the supervision of Dr. Perry. Subsequently, the doctor develops a personal interest in Maria, and makes sexual advances toward her. The graduate student impressed by the attention she is receiving from the doctor subsequently enters into a romantic relationship with him. She later feels guilty about the relationship and tries to break off the relationship, but the doctor continues to pursue her. The student tells a friend, but does not report the actions for fear of losing her assistantship. In addition, she has to take a course from the doctor and worries that she would receive poor recommendations with which to pursue her doctoral students. Although the relationship was entered into freely, the student now feels trapped and manipulated. Two ethical dilemmas are recognized in this case-dual relationship and relationship with students.

? Depth and breadth of ethical dilemma (What makes it an ethical dilemma? Who are the parties affected by the dilemma?): ACA, plus AMHCA ethical code number and title related to the ethical dilemma.

The case presents an ethical dilemma because it involves a potential exploitative relationship, and violates principles of ethical conduct concerning psychologists' relationships with students and/or their employees. The parties affected are Maria and the doctor. In all three organizations, the American Psychological Association (APA, 2002), the American Counseling Association (ACA, 1999), and the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA, 2010) ethical guidelines are set forth related to student/supervisory/employee ...

Solution Summary

This solution presents a case study involving a dual relationship. The potential for exploitation and harm to clients in counselor-client relationships are discussed.

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