Dual roles and ethics



The thing my counselling course is so hot on (understandably!) is.. ‘ethics’. Speaking as a student who was unable to get permission to do a piece of work with their cohort on the training experience because of the issue of ‘dual roles’, I have come ‘up close and personal’ to this issue a number of times.


As a person counselling in a small community, I have (inevitably perhaps) bumped into ex-clients at events. As a (trainee) counsellor with some minority interests, I have met other counselling professionals unexpectedly in some quite intimate venues. Both of these things are things you often can’t (or don’t) legislate for in advance. As much as I might talk to a client about the fact we might bump into each other at an event, I don’t always hold in mind that I could bump into ANY client at ANY event (although when I put the bins out in my PJs the other day it was definitely top of my list of thoughts).


But something that is rarely talked about and (by my institution at least) is something that I know has been an issue for at least one other trainee, and that is when your supervisor is also your placement co-ordinator. How do you manage that? It is probably fine when all is going well, but what if you have an issue with your placement outside of supervision (say you have a particular area of expertise and your placement is less than expert on the matter and you want to raise it)? What if your placement has an issue with you? Normally this would not be necessarily dealt with in external supervision – procedural issues would be addressed in placement, and if YOU felt it was an issue, you could decide to take it to supervision. When your co-ordinator is your supervisor this separation may not be possible.


It’s something that’s recently become more relevant for me because for the first 15 months of seeing clients I was running my own placement. Now I am in a second placement where my supervisor is the placement co-ordinator and I am having to negotiate where something is one thing and where it is another. My advice would be to have something concrete set up: we’ll have supervision X times a month, but it may be that I need to talk to you about procedural things outside of that and we will do that outside of supervision. Or: we’ll mix the two. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other, but until I was in this position it never occurred to me that without those boundaries I would suddenly be experiencing contact with my supervisor that did not feel like supervision, but was perhaps, billed as that.


From all I can see, we hit dual roles all over the place. A friend recently asked me if I could recommend a counsellor for them. And i can. But only because I know the counsellor. If i didn’t know them, I wouldn’t be able to recommend them. So now my friend may be seeing my friend who is a counsellor (I haven’t, and won’t ask. But if they say they are, I will negotiate that. But it’s still a dual role: friendship/professional relationship). I co-run a person-centered group locally. Trainees and trained counsellors come. Some of whom I am aware of from other services. Some of whom I know from my life before. It’s a dual relationship. I work with someone who is related to a friend. These are all dual relationships that we are expected to manage, without even really a passing word. Whilst I could not get ethics approval to write a paper about the student experience (because it was a dual role), I will be allowed (or at least, in the past others have ben allowed) to interview potentially people from my cohort for my dissertation. It’s a dual relationship. As are all the others. But in the others, it is a given that I will be expected to manage that.


4 thoughts on “Dual roles and ethics

  1. Paul Colley says:

    Have you read Kiselica, M. & Moleski, S., (2005) – Dual Relationships – A Continuum Ranging From the Destructive to the Therapeutic? I’ve revisited it a few times over the last ten years and found it an interesting read – very mature and non-dichotomous. And even the BACP Info Sheet ‘Dual Roles’ is a pretty good introduction to these issues (was Ref. G3, by Michael Jacobs, last time I looked — which was yonks ago!). Let me know if you want a copy of either.

    You’re right that for the most part we are expected to figure all this out for ourselves (and often only retrospectively in supervision – which may itself be ‘compromised’ in some way!).

    Woe betide us if we get this shit wrong too. It’s then you realise that your professional membership organisation is NOT like a trade union – and may even respond to you as the physical corpus would to a foreign body.

  2. mettacounselling says:

    When I was a student counsellor it was considered a big ‘no-no’ to have the same person acting as clinical supervisor and line manager or similar role. I know one person who had this situation and it was difficult for her. I suppose it depends on the person doing the supervising/managing, but I don’t think I would feel comfortable in that situation.

    • Meep says:

      it might be in other places, but it doesn’t seem to be in mine. These days with less money doing the same things, I guess it isn’t massively unusual that the co-ordinator would also be the supervisor if an in-house one was required, although I agree that it isn’t optimal!

Say something about this

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s