Stanley, a social worker was consulting with his colleague, Ollie, about a client and a possible dual relationship. Ollie envisioned Stanley with pistols at dawn, like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. “Dual! Not duel!” bellowed Stanley. As social workers, we must listen carefully! And ask for clarification! And do we really take dual relationships into consideration with every client?

Dual relationships are covered in the NASW Code of Ethics under “Conflicts of Interest – Sec. 1.06 (C). A dual relationship exists when there is a connection/relationship between counselor and client or former client, (beside the counselor/client one), where there is risk of exploitation or potential harm to the client. This issue can be especially challenging in small communities where paths cross constantly. What happens when the town’s only shoemaker steps into the office of the town’s only counselor, whose boots he repaired? Does he feel okay baring his sole? (Bad joke, but you get the point!) What are the key issues to address in facing dual relationships?

  • A thorough, comprehensive assessment of the client to identify possible dual relationships

  • Having alternative plans in place for referring to other counselors

  • Review of national and state codes of ethics about this topic

  • Developing your own practice policy in regards to dual relationships

Dennis Malloy, LCSW, ACSW
Dennis Malloy, LCSW, ACSW