Navigating Dual Relationships in Rural Communities


  • This research was made possible through consultation with Edwin Risler, PhD (Athens, GA) and the Georgia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Board and members.


The literature examining dual relationships in rural communities is limited, and existing ethical guidelines lack guidelines about how to navigate these complex relationships. This study uses grounded theory to explore rural therapists' perceptions of dual relationship issues, the perceived impact of minority and/or religious affiliation on the likelihood of dual relationships, and the ways rural therapists handle inevitable dual relationship situations. All of the therapists who participated in the study practiced in small communities and encountered dual relationship situations with regularity. The overarching theme that emerged from the data was that of using professional judgment in engaging in the relationship, despite the fact that impairment of professional judgment is the main objection to dual relationships. This overall theme contained three areas where participants felt they most needed to use their judgment: the level of benefit or detriment to the client, the context, and the nature of the dual relationship. Surprisingly, supervision and/or consultation were not mentioned by the participants as strategies for handling dual relationships. The results of this study are compared with established ethical decision-making models, and implications for the ethical guidelines and appropriate ethical training are suggested.