Can a Significant Other Provide Therapy to The Other?                                                   

Not being an ethicist I cannot speak to this question with any authority. I can, however, reflect on it as it does raise at least one intriguing clinical issue: Is it possible for a former “significant," that is to suggest intimate, "other” to be viewed objectively by either the practitioner or the client or one seeking therapy? If the answer is yes, it is feasible, does this possibility assume this objectivity is simultaneous for both parties, that is to say that both parties will be equally objective and detached from the previous relationship at the moment of their reintroduction as practitioner and client? If the answer remains yes, does this necessitate a quantifiable period of time between one’s status as significant other and becoming either practitioner or client in order for this objectivity to be realized? Assuming the answer to all these question continues to be yes and that objectivity is indeed possible, are there other implications raised by the fact that one or both parties have specific intimate knowledge regarding the other that may impact judgment as regards treatment planning and/or follow-through irrespective of objectivity? 

Just as the admiral and captain on a naval flagship dine separately from each other as well as from the crew at large—they literally dine alone so as to discourage the development of close friendships and emotional ties that could affect personal judgment regarding command decisions that necessitate the sending of one's subordinates into harm’s way—can a practitioner every truly detach him or herself from “what once was” in order to thoroughly engage in the pursuit of “what might become”?

Please know that I do not doubt the sincerity of my colleagues who suggest seeing former significant other's professionally is possible and I recognize that the vast majority of us would never intentionally jeopardize the clinical outcome of work with a client if thinking that previous knowledge of said client could result in providing subjective treatment, but we all know what we have learned and learned what we were taught, be it in the classroom, home, or previous intimate relationships. AA has a saying that is somewhat apropos here: You can always turn a cucumber into a pickle, but you can never change a pickle back into a cucumber. Albeit a bit folksy, it is nonetheless a poignant statement that speaks to the clinical issues raised in my initial ethical question: If I had been your lover, could you ever see me as other than that former lover? I am not sure I could see you as otherwise.

What do you think?


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