Dual relationships in social work practice refer to situations where a social worker has multiple roles or relationships with a client beyond the professional one

Dual relationships in social work practice refer to situations where a social worker has multiple roles or relationships with a client beyond the professional one. These relationships can be either non-harmful or harmful, depending on the specifics of the situation (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2018). A non-harmful relationship may include occasional socializing. For example, a social worker attending a client’s wedding or birthday party, where they have appropriate boundaries and do not engage in therapeutic discussions. On the other hand, a harmful relationship may look like a romantic relationship. For example, a social worker becoming personally involved with a client is not only unethical but also compromises the client’s autonomy and therapeutic progress.



To consider if the dual relationship is harmful or not, there may be a couple of factors. One factor can be assessing whether the dual relationship blurs the boundaries between the professional and personal life of the social worker, creating confusion or conflicts of interest. This can disrupt the therapeutic progress made for the client, and have them focused on the wrong things.



Specific Ethical Dilemma: A social worker who has been working with a client for several years becomes romantically attracted to the client and is contemplating pursuing a romantic relationship with them.


Ethical Issues: The potential romantic relationship between the social worker and the client raises several ethical concerns. It challenges the principles of professional boundaries, objectivity, and the client’s autonomy. The social worker’s ability to provide unbiased and objective support to the client may be compromised, as personal emotions and interests can influence their decision-making and interventions. Additionally, the power dynamics inherent in the therapeutic relationship can make it difficult for the client to freely consent or voice concerns about the romantic involvement.


Values and Ethical Standards: The ethical values and standards that apply to this situation include the social worker’s commitment to the client’s welfare, the promotion of client autonomy, maintaining professional boundaries, avoiding harm, and upholding professional integrity.


Parties Affected: The client is directly affected, as engaging in a romantic relationship with the social worker can impact their well-being and compromise the therapeutic relationship. Other individuals indirectly affected may include the social worker’s colleagues, the agency, and the social work profession as a whole.


Potential Courses of Action: Terminate the professional relationship: The social worker could ethically decide to cease their professional relationship with the client, aiming to protect the client’s best interests and the integrity of the therapeutic process. This would involve referring the client to another qualified professional for ongoing support.


Oppose course of action: It is the social workers job to uphold professional integrity and avoid potential harm by maintaining boundaries and ensuring the client’s best interests are prioritized.






Kirst-Ashman, K. K., & Hull, G. H., Jr. (2018). Empowerment series: Understanding generalist practice (8th ed.). CENGAGE Learning.

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