Sexual Misconduct in Counselor-Client Relationships

  • Sexual Misconduct –Engaging in sexual or romantic counselor-client interaction or relationships with current clients, their romantic partners, or family members. (ACA Code A.5.a,b)


  • Any type of erotic contact (touching body parts, directly or through clothes)
  • sexual conversations
  • expressing sexual fantasies
  • nonverbal sexual innuendo
  • provocative clothing
  • seductive behavior


  • The counselor is the one in power.  It is his or her duty to set appropriate professional boundaries and then follow through on the enforcement of them.


  • Inappropriate sexual jokes or references made by the practitioner.
  • Having concern that a treatment relationship is moving from the professional to the inappropriately personal.
  • When the practitioner tells you his or her intimate personal problems.
  • When the practitioner asks you to go outside the bounds of a professional relationship (e.g. – going on a dinner date, or social meeting outside the office).
  • When the practitioner tells you that having a sexual relationship with him or her is good treatment/the only way you can get well.
  • When the practitioner offers recreational drugs or alcohol.
  • When the practitioner asks you to keep your relationship with him or her a secret.
  • When the practitioner suggests to you that intimate forms of touching have been proven to be therapeutic for your condition.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THOSE RISK IT? (Remley & Herlihy, 2007, chap. 8.)

  • Narcissistic
  • Sociopathic
  • Borderline Traits
  • Ego driven
  • Lonely

MORE SPECIFICALLY: (Dileo, 2000, chap. 6)

  1. Naive therapists.
  2. Neurotic therapists.
  3. Severely neurotic therapists.
  4. Therapists with character disorders and impulse control problems.
  5. Sociopathic or narcissistic therapists.
  6. Psychotic or borderline.
  7. Classic sex offenders.
  8. Medically disabled therapists (i.e. neurological impairments leading to impaired judgment, and bipolar therapists)
  9. Masochist or self-defeating behaviors.


  • boundary violations

The WHY is different, but the result is the same.


  • fear, isolation and distrust, often leading to depression, feeling out of control, or even suicidal
  • indecision/temporary inability to make decisions, to work at a job, or to tend to personal needs
  • guilt, shame, and feelings of responsibility
  • recurrent nightmares, fears or images of intrusion/flashbacks about the experience, and difficulty concentrating in other areas of life
  • identity/boundary/role confusion
  • suppressed rage


  • Teachers
  • Doctors
  • Social Workers
  • Pastors/Ministers
  • Police Officers

Crossing the Line:

Baker, T.R. (1996). Sexual misconduct among students: Title IX court decisions in the aftermath of Franklin vs. Gwinnett County.  West’s Education Law Quarterly, 5(4), 569-589.

Dileo, C. (2000).  Ethical thinking in music therapy.  Cherry Hill, NJ:  Jeffrey Books.

NBCOT (National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy), (2003).  Sexual misconduct in professionals. Retrieved April 2009.

Somer, E., Saadon, M. (1999).  Therapist-client sex: Clients’ retrospective reports.  Professional Psychology:  Research and Practice, 30(5), 204-209.

Remley, T. P., & Herlihy, B. (2007). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling (Updated 2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Young, J.L., & Griffith, E.E.H. (1995).  Regulating pastoral counseling practice:  The problem of sexual misconduct.  The Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 23(3), 421-432.


3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Patreas Walker  |  November 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    My name is Patreas Walker and Im from Milwaukee,Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I have been in a situation where I had a sexual relationship with my AODA counselor. Although its been almost 5 years ago my mind still plays tricks on me, and I find myself stuck in thaughts that if I would have had a fair chance in treatment, I wouldnt be in an abnormal state of mind.
    I find myself very depressed at times, more than often, I think about how important it is to maintain the best way I can and go on with my life.
    I am a Human Service major, and I will advocate for the rights of clients that are experiencing the same horrow as myself, nothing was done about it, I didnt know how to talk about, but the pain still haunts me,but I keep going.

    in every way possible. I do not want to see any go through the eperiencei

  • 2. Gemini Dickerson  |  March 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    What is the proper way to cite information taken from this website regarding the harm to clients?

  • 3. Elbert  |  June 1, 2013 at 10:15 am

    I am actually delighted to read this webpage posts which consists of lots of useful facts, thanks for providing these information.


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