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Relational/cultural theory frames this as striving for a “power with” instead of a “power over” relationship.

DK: So the reason that the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics continues to give no leeway and to ban all sexual or romantic interactions with clients is because we know that harm always occurs when that happens? Even if it appears on the surface that a client is open to a sexual/romantic relationship, there are always things that happen, and the client could later turn around and say that he or she wasn’t able to make a decision that was in their best interest at the time and therefore felt coerced.

The client may decide to maintain the counselor-client relationship, but the counselor is obligated to explore the potential risks and benefits to the change in relationship (i.e., seeing each other at family gatherings).

Since informed consent is an ongoing process, there would be a need to readdress confidentiality if the client decides to stay with the counselor.

All ACA members are required to abide by the ACA Code of Ethics, and 22 state licensing boards use it as the basis for adjudicating complaints of ethical violations.

As a service to members, Counseling Today is publishing a monthly column focused on new or updated aspects of the ACA Code of Ethics (the ethics code is also available online at

In a cultural context, “family” can be nonblood relationships such as godparents or neighbors.

MK: The task force prohibited sexual or intimate relationships with family members because counselors engaging in such relationships with client’s relatives can have a harmful impact on clients.

For example, if a counselor were to have an intimate or sexual relationship with a sibling or a former partner of a client, that could have a potential risk of emotionally harming the client.

However, if the counselor is found guilty, the insurance company will not pay any monetary damages that are awarded and will also expect to be reimbursed by the counselor for all legal fees incurred in their defense.

The fact that sexual contact is the only exclusion contained in a malpractice policy indicates how harmful sexual contact is to a client.

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