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Unethical Counselor

Question:

Hello Dr Dombeck, my wife is an alcoholic (sober now for a few years) and suffers from depression, which I know is not uncommon however I am faced with a fairly unique situation. On entering her treatment program her counselor became emotionally involved with her, he had her living with him a few days after entering the centre. This relationship went on for about two years, there was nothing I could do to stop it or reason with her. We recently had the opportunity to rebuild our family of five, obviously we have three young children, after their relationship ended. I am now “blown away” (after about two years together) to hear that, as much a she loves me, she cannot live without him even though she would dearly have loved to keep our family together. We had a wonderful time together, sharing in the children’s fun and enjoying some long overdue intimacy and she tells me that she loves me, however she feels she needs to be in a “safe place” and that is what he offers. She has an incredible fear of relapse, she never completed her recovery steps whilst living with him. You can imagine how angry I am with him as I feel he certainly breached every rule in the book and, in my mind, has created a dependency rather than a loving relationship. For the record, this is his third relationship formed with patients in AA recovery. I realize you wont have all the answers but it would be helpful at least to get a professional opinion on her state of mind, and his likely motives, as I need now to decide if he has “ruined” her for life and she will be unlikely to break the dependency of the “safe place” in order to love again.

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Answer:

I can’t comment on what your wife’s state of mind is, or what the counselor’s motives are, but I can confirm for you that what has occurred is an ethical breach of the highest order, and easy grounds for loss of licensure in many jurisdictions. I strongly suggest that you complain to whatever licensing body regulates this counselor’s professional practice or possibly even a lawyer. The term ‘counselor’ can mean many things, unfortunately, and at least here in the United States, counselor is often an unprotected term that is essentially meaningless – no credential is necessary for practice to occur, and therefore there may be no regulating body to strip the credential from such an unethical and pathological individual. Best of luck in blocking this individual’s ability to harm others in the future.

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p> With regard to the future of your marriage, certainly I can recommend that you see if you can get your wife to accompany you to marriage counseling. It may be that the support of an ethical counselor could prove helpful in knitting things together in a more satisfying way.

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