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Ethics of Dual Relationships & Therapeutic Boundaries in
Sport Psychology

Ethical, Clinical and Standard of Care Considerations

Resources

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
 

This page provides resources regarding the ethical complexities of multiple roles and diverse dual and multiple relationships for psychologists, coaches, treaters, directors, managers, and other roles, which at times overlap or co-exist in sport psychology.

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Overview

Conducting sports psychology with athletes and teams often involves intricate and unavoidable multiple roles, multiple extra-therapeutic connections, many out-of-office experiences and other boundary crossings. One of the often discussed dual roles in sport psychology is that of coach-practitioner, where the coach or the assistant coach also serves as his/her team's sport psychology consultant. Several experts have reflected on the advantage of such dual roles as long as the focus of the therapeutic work is on performance rather than clinical matters. Social dual relationships are unavoidable and are an inherent part of the milieu when a team psychologist travels with the team and spends long hours on buses and in airports, airplanes, dining halls, hotels, and ... bars. Confidentiality and other boundaries must be handled with care in sport psychology, as dual and diverse roles of psychologists, coaches, treaters, managers, etc., at times, overlap and co-exist. Similarly, confidentiality issues should be clearly articulated and explained to players, coaches, and management. The teacher-treater dual role is another multiple role relationship which has been reported in the sports psychology literature. Such multiple role relationships are most likely to occur in the collegiate setting when faculty members who teach sports psychology also consult as psychologists and consultants with athletes and teams on campus. Working outside the office walls or what has been called Out of Office Experiences adds another dimension to psychologists who work with or as part of law enforcement and police departments.

 

Online Resources

 

Codes of Ethics

  • Ethics Code of Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP): Applied Principles and Standards(1996)
    (See also Ethics Committee History)
    9. Multiple Relationships
    (a) AASP members must always be sensitive to the potential harmful if unintended effects of social or other nonprofessional contacts on their work and on those persons with whom they deal. Such multiple relationships might impair the AASP member's objectivity or might harm or exploit the other party.
    (b) An AASP member refrains from taking on professional or scientific obligations when preexisting relationships would create a risk of such harm.
    (c) AASP members do not engage in sexual relationships with students, supervisees, and clients over whom the AASP member has evaluative, direct, or indirect authority, because such relationships are so likely to impair judgment or be exploitative.
    (d) AASP members avoid personal, scientific, professional, financial, or other relationships with family members of minor clients because such relationships are so likely to impair judgment or be exploitative.
    (e) If an AASP member finds that, due to unforeseen factors, a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the AASP member attempts to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and maximal compliance with the Ethics Code.
  • Ethical principles of the European Sport Psychology Federation (FEPSAC), 2011
    Ethical Principles, 2011
    Principle E: Integrity
    European researchers and practitioners are responsible for maintaining and promoting integrity in the research, teaching, and practice of sport psychology. They are honest, fair, and respectful to other professionals, clients and the public. When describing or reporting their qualifications, services, products, fees, research, or teaching, they do not consciously make statements that are fake, misleading, or deceptive. European researchers and practitioners should clearly define to all parties the roles they are performing and the obligations they adopt. European researchers and practitioners should avoid improper and potentially harmful dual (or multiple) relationship and conflicts of their personal and professional interests. Moreover, they should be sensitive to the sub/cultural norms in which they practice or research. European researchers and practitioners should appropriately consider their actions and intentions to prevent crossing boundaries of appropriate practice (i.e., therapeutic use of touch) resulting in harmful violations of appropriate practice parameters (i.e., sexual boundary violations within professional relationships).

 
Additional Resources

  • Andersen, M. B.; Van Raalte, J. L.; Brewer, B. W. (2001). Sport psychology service delivery: Staying ethical while keeping loose. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 32(1), 12-18.
  • Aoyagi, M. & Portenga, S. (2010) The role of positive ethics and virtues in the context of sport and performance psychology service delivery. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41(3):253-259.
  • Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) (1996). AASP Ethical Principles and Standards, the Ethics Code. Retrieved from: http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/about/ethics/ (accessed on January 1, 2016).
  • Baltzell, A., Schinke, R. J. & Watson, J. (2010). Who is my Client? Association of Applied Sport Psychology Newsletter.
  • Brown, J., & Cogan, K. (2006). Ethical clinical practice and sport psychology: When two worlds collide. Ethics and Behavior, 16, 15–23.
  • Buceta, J. (1993). The sport psychologist/athletic coach dual role: Advantages, difficulties, and ethical considerations. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 5, 64-77.
  • Bucky, S. F. (2014). Ethical issues in assessing/treating elite athletes. The National Psychologist. January Retrieved from: http://nationalpsychologist.com/2014/01/ethical-issues-in-assessing-treating-elite-athletes/102423.html (accessed July 27, 2016).
  • Bucky, S. F. & Stolberg, R. A. (In Press). Multiple Relationships in Sports Psychology. In Zur, O. (Ed.) Multiple Relationships in Psychotherapy and Counseling: Unavoidable, Common and Mandatory Dual Relations in Therapy. New York: Routledge.
  • Bucky, S.F., Stolberg, R.A., Strack, B., & Landon, A. (2015). Prominent components of successful work with professional athletes. Paper presented at the meeting of San Diego Psychological Association, San Diego, CA
  • Catalano, S. (1997). The challenges of clinical practice in small or rural communities: case studies in managing dual relationships in and outside of therapy. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 27(1), 23–35.
  • Ellickson, K., & Brown, D. (1988). Ethical consideration in dual relationships: The sport psychologist-coach. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2, 186-190.
  • European Sport Psychology Federation (FEPSAC) (2011). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.fepsac.com/activities/publications/ (accessed July 27, 2016).
  • Gardner, F. & Moore, Z (2006). Clinical Sport Psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Gardner, F. (1995). The coach and the team psychologist: An integrated organisational model. In S.M. Murphy (Ed.), Sport psychology interventions (pp. 147–175). Champaign: Human Kinetics.
  • Haberl, P., & Peterson, K. (2006). Olympic-size ethical dilemmas: Issues and challenges for sport psychology consultants on the road and at the Olympic games. Ethics & Behavior, 16, 25-40.
  • Hornak, J. N., & Hornak, J. E. (1993). Coach and player- Ethics and dangers of dual relationships. Journal of Physical Education Recreation and Dance, 5, 84-85.
  • Jones, L., Evans, L., & Mullen, R. (2007). Multiple roles in an applied setting: Trainee sport psychologist, coach, and researcher. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 210-226.
  • Locke, L., & Massengale, J. (1978). Role conflict in teacher/coaches. The Research Quarterly, 49, 162-174.
  • Moore, Z. E. (2003). Ethical Dilemmas in Sport Psychology: Discussion and Recommendations for Practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(6), 601-610
  • Petitpas, A.J., Giges, B., & Danish, S.J. (1999). The sport psychologist-athlete relationship: Implications for training. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 344–357.
  • Smith, D. (1992). The coach as sport psychologist: An alternative view. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 4, 56-62.
  • Stapleton, A. B., Hankes, D. M., Hays, K. F., Parham, W. D. (2010). Ethical dilemmas in sport psychology: A dialogue on the unique aspects impacting practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41(2), 143-152.
  • Triplett, N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. American Journal of Psychology, 9, 507–553.
  • Watson II, J. C., Clement, D., Harris, B, Leffingwell, T., & Hurst, J. (2004). Teacher-practitioner multiple role issues in sport psychology. Ethics and Behavior, 16(1), 41-59.
  • Weinberg, R. & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Zella, E. (2003). Ethical Dilemmas in Sport Psychology: Discussion and Recommendations for Practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(6), 601-610.

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