For decades, one of the most common ethical dilemmas has been overlapping relationships with clients: What do you do when your son's baseball coach wants to work with you? Janet Schank, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Minneapolis/St. Paul and co-author of "Ethical Practice in Small Communities: Challenges and Rewards for Psychologists" (APA, 2006), encourages psychologists to:
Discuss the issues with potential clients during intake. "Being clear from the very beginning about expectations, boundaries and what will happen when you see each other in social settings or at the grocery store makes it a lot less likely there will be transgressions later on," Schank says.
Talk to their families. Psychologists in small communities face restrictions on their social lives and should discuss how their work affects their families' lives as well. "Come up with a code to use with your spouse, such as, 'No, I really can't do that,' to signify that your work may interfere with being able to have a certain couple over for dinner, for example," Schank says. "That way you don't have to go into any more detail" and risk violating a client's privacy.
Get out of their bubble. Develop a network of psychologists in other small communities whom you can consult as issues arise, Schank says.