Dual relationships in mental health practice: issues for clinicians in rural settings


  • Centre for Rural Mental Health, School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine, Monash University, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. Email: fjudd@bendigohealth.org.au

    Gene Hodgins, Lecturer in Psychology; Carol Hulbert, Senior Lecturer in Psychology

    Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

    Ruth Endacott, Professor and Head; Margaret Grigg, Senior Lecturer; Anita Wood, Research Assistant

    Department of Nursing, School of Health and Environment, Latrobe University, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia

Joseph Scopelliti, Senior Lecturer, Psychology; Fiona Judd, Professor and Director (Correspondence); Cait Fraser, Research Assistant


Objective:  This paper aims to provide an overview of the literature on non-sexual dual relationships, and to discuss these in the context of rural mental health practice in Australia.

Method:  An internet-driven literature search was undertaken using OVID databases, which include MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and EMBASE: Psychiatry. Ethical codes of practice for the mental health professions of psychiatry, psychology, occupational therapy, social work and nursing were referred to. Searches were not limited by year of publication. Other unpublished material or information was included where relevant.

Results:  Dual relationships are common in rural mental health practice. However, research on non-sexual dual relationship boundary issues in rural mental health is limited. Ethical codes of practice of mental health professional bodies provide little guidance regarding non-sexual dual relationships. Decision-making models addressing the ethics of dual relationships are restricted to considerations of whether to enter a dual relationship rather than how to manage such a relationship.

Conclusions:  ‘Everyday’ dual relationships are a predictable part of rural mental health practice. Further research is required to identify the benefits and/or problems in clinical practice resulting from non-sexual dual relationships. Responsibility for identifying and implementing ways of appropriately managing such relationships should be shared by the patient, the clinician, mental health services and professional organizations.