Met on a Dating Website, and He Invited Me to Try Therapy With Him…Online Dating and Therapy Don’t Mix

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Reader’s Question

I recently met a therapist on a dating website. I noticed that he was editing information about himself, and he very quickly suggested that we meet in person. When we did, we initially had very social conversation before he suggested I try therapy with him. I let this person know that this was not why I had wanted to meet and made no confirmation at that time.

After some consideration, I tried it. After two sessions, I expressed my reservations, mentioning that I felt it unhealthy to continue therapy with someone I could be interested in. He still urged me to continue, saying that I had experienced transference. I found this hard to believe, considering that we met socially. I let him know that I would not be continuing therapy with him. After several weeks, I contacted the therapist to let him know the reason that I stopped was that I felt pursued as a patient from a dating website and that it erred on the side of unethical; and if I could feel resolved in this, I may consider continuing. When I let him know that I had not been misled, but that he should not use his influence in this way (after having met on a dating site), he asked if I could be certain that he hadn’t considered me for a different kind of relationship, and was it not my vanity getting in the way of admitting that he might have. I really think this is bizarre and twisted for a therapist to be crossing so my lines psychologically. Has the therapist been unethical? Your input would be much appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

Some dual relationships are allowed in professional therapeutic relationships, such as bartering or trading services, academic and therapeutic relationships, etc. However, a dual relationship involving therapy and romance is strictly forbidden. Since he has had therapy sessions with you, then your relationship is governed by professional ethics. Since the details of ethical responsibilities differ from state to state and from country to country, I encourage you to contact the ethics committee of the local professional licensing board to see what specific boundary was violated. If you choose to file a complaint, it would be with that same board.

Boundaries are established in therapy for very specific purposes. A therapist’s dedication is to suspend self-interest, to focus solely on the patient, to remain outside of the personal life of the patient in order to facilitate the therapeutic work. Therapists can cross boundaries for a number of legitimate reasons. For example, a therapist may make a self-disclosure in order to help therapy at a certain juncture. He may meet outside of the office to do an in vivo intervention, or visit a patient at hospital or at home. But therapy never, ever involves sex. Having sexual relations with a patient is unethical and hurtful. I’ve never heard of a therapist soliciting patients from a dating website, but that is a clear boundary violation.

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I advise you to terminate treatment with this therapist immediately and advise him to consult the ethics committee himself. If he doesn’t see the boundary violation, then perhaps they can educate him. That would probably be the result of any complaint filed against him — mandatory education in ethics. It’s very good that you are so aware and articulate; you’ve protected yourself from being injured more seriously.

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