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Original article

Vol. 145 No. 0506 (2015)

Therapist-client sex in psychotherapy: attitudes of professionals and students towards ethical arguments

  • Sebastian Hollwich
  • Irina Franke
  • Anita Riecher-Rössler
  • Stella Reiter-Theil
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2015;145:w14099


INTRODUCTION: Data suggest that a substantial proportion of psychotherapists engage in therapist-client sex (TCS), violating national and international ethical guidelines. The objective of our study was to find a new and effective starting point for preventive interventions.

METHOD: Using an online questionnaire, this study explored professionals’ attitudes toward aspects of a TCS-case example influencing the tendency to pursue colleagues’ TCS, including self-interest and responsibility ascribed to clients.

RESULTS: A total of 421 participants expressed preferences for courses of action and rated given information in a questionnaire. Results indicate that TCS is most often condemned for its inherent carelessness towards clients, its exploitative nature, the abuse of dependency and for counteracting the inherent intention of psychotherapy. Partial responsibility for TCS was attributed to clients by 41.3% of the respondents. Although self-interest related information was rated as an acceptable reason against pursuing TCS, a strong tendency exists to confront an abusive colleague, even at the risk of own disadvantages.

DISCUSSION: In the detailed discussion ethical arguments against TCS (other than the certainly inflicted, but hardly measurable harm) are elaborated. In particular the incompatibility of TCS with a psychotherapeutic relationship, the responsibility for TCS in the asymmetrical client-therapist relationship and the legitimacy of self-protection are discussed.

CONCLUSION: Reasoning against TCS can and should be based on explicit, ethical requirements for psychotherapists. Furthermore, integrating the topic in psychotherapists’ training is encouraged and a discrete procedure to report a colleague’s TCS is requested.


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