One of psychologists’ core ethical principles is maintaining appropriate boundaries with our clients. We all define appropriate boundaries in our own way, but there are certain immutable guidelines. Here are mine.
I do not spend time with clients outside a therapy session, either on line or in person. This means not being Facebook friends, not going for dinner together, not meeting up for the latest exhibit at the art gallery, and not signing up for the same yoga class. If a client ends up in yoga with me, that’s different; as long as I don’t orchestrate our co-attendance, and we don’t have an unplanned therapy session during savasana, I have not violated these rules.
To take this one step further, any ethical psychologist does not engage in a sexual or romantic relationship with a client ever. Some might consider such a relationship permissible after the therapeutic relationship ends, but not me. If you can’t figure out why that shift in boundaries would be inappropriate, I’d suggest you not become a therapist.
Thus, if I am a client’s therapist, I can’t also be his employee or his best friend or his soccer coach. This philosophy is clearly foreign to the entertainment industry. Daily of late another idiot confesses under duress to behaving in a sexually inappropriate manner with one or two or 60 people over whom he has had power. These abusers’ power lies in their potential positive or negative influence on that person’s career. Maybe I can educate this industry to end these long-standing abuses of power.
The Harvey Insights
- If you are in a position of power over an individual, whether as a movie producer or a mentor or a coach or a boss or a teacher or a parent or a therapist, do not engage in a sexual relationship with that person.
- If the object of your interest is 40+ years your junior, let’s assume there is an inherent power imbalance. In other words, date someone your own age.
- If you hold meetings in your hotel room and forget to wear clothes, your behaviour may be construed as sexually improper.
- If your ungentlemanly sexual behaviour is the talk of the town, be aware that at some point the police may get involved.
If it is too late for you, and you have already made gross (in all senses of the word) errors in judgement, consider that the following are not valid excuses for your behaviour.
The Life-Is-No-Longer-a-Bed-of-Roses Excuses
- I was drunk and I can’t remember abusing you.
- I was confused about my sexual identity at the time.
- I have a sexual addiction. (Sorry, folks, there is no such thing as a sexual addiction, and thus no treatment for this fictitious ailment. Sexual addicts are people unwilling to admit to their propensity to abuse others sexually.)
- I thought she consented. (Have you already forgotten that 40+ year age difference and the inherent power imbalance mentioned earlier? Perhaps you’re suffering from age-related memory loss. You might want to investigate that. Oh, and stop flattering yourself.)
Finally, consider that not saying yes may mean no. If you put on your reading glasses, you might better be able to read between those lines, fellas. Don’t miss the oh-so-subtle signs of your subordinate’s fleeing screaming from your hotel room.