- Center for Ethical Practice - https://centerforethicalpractice.org -

Chance Encounters of the Awkward Kind

What are the ethical implications of how we handle encounters with clients or their families outside the clinical setting? How do we decide where to draw the line in such encounters? Are there any ways to minimize their occurrence, or to prevent unnecessary clinical complications? How can we prevent them from becoming problematic dual relationships?


I. “Chance Encounter”

A. a “coming upon” unexpectedly

B. an “accidental intersecting”

C. an unplanned, unanticipated crossing of paths

II. Important Distinctions

A. Does This ” Encounter” Create a “Dual Relationship” ?

B. Was it Avoidable or Unavoidable?

C. Was This Really “Chance” ? If Not, Who Created It? Why?

D. Continuum: Slightly awkward ? Downright Paralyzing

III. What Does My Ethics Code Say About This?

IV. Does This Have Legal Implications?

V. How Can Forethought Help?

A. Expect it

B. Prepare yourself

C. Prepare your clients

D. Avoid over-disclosure or unnecessary shifts in boundaries

E. De-brief (e.g., with colleague, consultant, or supervisor)

F. Process the encounter with the client in the next session

VI. Clinical Vignettes

Educational Goals:
(a) Give examples of “chance encounters” with clients that might create ethical dilemmas.
(b) Indicate which of these might be “avoidable” and which are “unavoidable.”
(c) Describe how they might create unnecessary ethical, clinical, or legal complications.
(d) Describe how each of these might be handled well in ways that avoid unnecessary complications.