A couple that you know from a mutual organization asks you to provide treatment to their child.  You offer referrals to other providers but they really press you to work with their child.  What are your ethical obligations? (paraphrased from NASW – Florida Chapter Newsletter (May/June 2010)

It may be ill-advised to work with the family members of people you know.  Marriage and Family therapists are cautioned by their code of ethics to

“1.3 Marriage and family therapists . . .

[should] make every effort to avoid conditions and multiple relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation. Such relationships include, but are not limited to, business or close personal relationships with a client or the client’s immediate family. . .”

It is up to the clinician to take specific steps to protect the client or potential client from any possible exploitation.  In the case above, the parents of the adult child are likely to want to be informed of the progress their child is making.  They may believe that their acquaintance with the therapist would entitle them to information that must be held in confidence.  When a therapist is put into a situation where he or she must refuse to provide information a conflict might arise.  No matter what the extent of the prior relationship between the parents and the therapist was, there is the possibility that the adult child may be concerned that his or her confidentiality could be breached.  Also, that individual might not even understand the strength of the mandate upon us as clincians to uphold their confidence.