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Professional Boundaries

Question:

Hi. I have been in therapy for over 5 years with the same therapist, M. M gave me a referral to a lawyer, A, so that I could have my wills done. A is also a very good friend of M’s. I end up hitting it off with A when I meet with her several times and we become friends. My relationship with A has gone on for about 8 months now. However, my therapist has told A that basically this situation of our being friends is very uncomfortable for her, because she is my therapist. She says that we should not have become friends, because she referred her on a professional basis only, but she knew that we had become friends from the beginning. She says that there is a boundary conflict because of the friendship, but I haven’t spoken about A in therapy at all, except to say that we had become friends. Anyhow, M tells A in a subtle way that she basically has to choose between her ten-year friendship with her or the 8-month friendship with me. What do you think of this?

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  • ‘Anne’ is the pseudonym for the individual who writes this relationship advice column.
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Answer:

Lots to think about here! First, what is the nature of the therapy you’ve been doing? I’m told by working mental health professionals that much of the time, therapy goals can be met in the space of months, maybe a few years tops. Five years seems like a long time to be in ongoing therapy unless it is supportive in nature, or unless your issues are fairly severe. It may be time to evaluate if M is still helping you get better, or if the relationship has become comfortable and you just don’t want it to end. Dr. Dombeck, of , tells me that therapists (Psychologists, anyway) have an ethical duty to avoid dual relationships. This means that they can’t be both your doctor and your friend at the same time. In your case, your therapist M is your therapist (and not your friend whom you see socially). I’m thinking that M is worried that she’ll go over A’s house and find you there, or there will be temptation for M to discuss you with A, thus creating a dual relationship and/or breaking your confidentiality. It doesn’t seem necessary for M to force A to ditch you as a friend in order to keep your therapy relationship intact; there are easier ways to solve the problem. M could simply never discuss you with A when they are together, and never see you both socially at the same time. This may be awkward, and a burden for her but it seems doable. Keeping her professional boundaries straight is part of her job and responsibilities. It is M’s duty to not get involved socially with you, not A’s. I think by passing the weight of the decision over to A, M may be failing to take personal responsibility for her role. At any rate, the real question is not what does Anne think, but rather, what you think (and feel) about the whole circus. Is this event changing the way you feel about M? About A? Write me back concerning how you solve this please.

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