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Couples therapist accidentally starts dating former client, asks if he should end it. UPDATED

Couples therapist accidentally starts dating former client, asks if he should end it. UPDATED


You can't make this stuff up!

"Accidentally started dating former client."

Here's the original post:

I know how this one sounds. I have a hard time believing it myself, how it unfolded. I just need some perspective. Some background: I live in a relatively small town, and I'm primarily a couples therapist. I've been in practice for over a decade, and have had over a 1000 couples as clients by now.

I divorced a few years ago, and have started getting back into the dating scene. I'm relatively up front in my profile about my profession, and it comes up pretty early on in conversations. In other words, I'm not hiding who I am and what I do. I've definitely encountered some former clients on apps, never swipe right, and ignore if they do.

To this situation: We match and start talking, hit it off pretty quickly, but due to circumstances spend about a month talking before we're able to meet up. She knows all about what I do, my divorce, etc. She tells me all about hers. We finally meet, and have an amazing time. At NO point do I recognize her. Not her name, face, voice, background, nothing.

It's not until about 6 weeks into getting to know each other that I'm telling a story and pronounce my last name for the first time. She immediately gets a look as if pieces are connecting and wheels are turning. (I honestly thought she was going to say we were related) She says she thinks her and her ex came to see me a number of years ago.

I still had no recollection, and later had to go pull the notes from 3 years prior. While I vaguely recall the case, I have no recollection of "her" being connected to it. Neither of us recognized the other.

At that period of time that I saw them my own marriage was falling apart, and we only met for 3 sessions total to help them separate well. (They had already decided to divorce before coming in). Which is my best guess for not recognizing her. That and ADHD

I'm at a loss. I already have feelings forming for this woman, I've never laughed or smiled so much, she's added boxes to my "checklist" I didn't know I was even looking for in a partner. I know the ethics of not exploiting the therapeutic relationship, but that isn't the case here. Our state code is 7 years before any "sexual intimacies".

I feel pretty strongly that this hasn't broken an ethical principle, but would violate the state code. It feels unjust to be forced to give up an established (if not young) relationship on an arbitrary technicality. That somehow a few more years would meaningfully change the circumstances.

I'm considering talking to the board, and if they hold to it, possibly just not renewing my license this winter. (That sounds more dramatic than it is, my livelihood isn't dependent on direct services I provide tied to my license)

I'm just looking for perspective on this. I know it might sound like a story trying to justify this relationship, but everything here is truthful to how it happened. If anyone disagrees, that it's violating an ethical principle, please explain why you think that.

I am an ethical provider, and don't desire to act unethically, so I'm open to hearing another perspective on that. Am I way off base here? Has this happened before? Is my thinking reasonable given the circumstances?

What do you think he should do? Here's what top commenters had to say:

muscravageur said:

State codes are not ‘arbitrary technicalities,’ they are rules you are bound by if you want to practice therapy in your state. I agree with you ethically, but your state doesn’t and that’s what counts. There’s really nothing to debate here.

Interesting_Syrup821 said:

I know this is essentially anonymous on your end but I commend you for speaking on this issue. Our job is layered, complex, and difficult. I am an LCSW which states that once a client, always a client. Seems like you are pursuing supervision which is a great idea.

Only you can truly decide what feels right for you- but with that, understand that continuing this relationship could cost you your career. Thank you for opening up about this. I’m sure it impacts more clinicians than we’d like to think.

MelodyStardust said:

If you end up dating and things go sideways between you, she’d always have a real doozie of a wildcard to use to hurt you… just saying

LoggerheadedDoctor said:

"Is my thinking reasonable given the circumstances?" Are you thinking or are you feeling? The rules are the rules. I have empathy for you and obviously many other commenters do, too, given the responses. That New Relationship Energy is intoxicating. I urge you to seek consultation and therapy in this situation. I think your judgment and decision making is clouded by emotions.

Would you tell people how you two first met? Would you tell professional colleagues? Your ex? Your livelihood is not connected to you license but would this have any impact on your career, professional reputation, etc?

After reading everyone's feedback, he later posted this update:

Hey all, just thought I'd give an update for the sake of community discourse. After my post, I consulted with a former mentor, who then presented it anonymously to a mutual colleague who is on our state board. She stated the board couldn't be of help until it was refered to them, but that it would probably result in a fine and public reprimand.

My mentor gave me the name of an expert mental health ethics attorney, who essentially said I had a reasonable argument but the risk of being wrong was significant. He described the process should I continue the relationship and a complaint was made.

It would be referred to the local DA, who would decide if they would investigate. If investigated, they would decide whether to prosecute. If prosecuted it would then go to the board. And I'd have a criminal professional sexual misconduct charge.

Obviously not a risk either of us would take. Also I learned that in my state there is no mechanism for surrendering a license. Once licensed, always licensed. You're either active or inactive. So that wasn't even an option to just leave the profession and pursue the relationship.

I'll be honest, I'm pretty upset about it. She's one of those people you don't come by often. But such are the cards we're dealt. Silver lining, I'll probably still be sifting through the same limited and disappointing dating options in 4 years, so who knows what'll happen then. Maybe it'll end up more Hallmark ending then Lifetime. (Kidding..)

In all, I'm glad I pursued an answer, and I feel that I did it responsibly and ethically. Sought consultation, clarified the codes, and with that information made the appropriate decision.

tl:dr I am not pursuing the relationship. I learned a lot. And I'm pretty sure my dating life is cursed.

Sources: Reddit
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