University of Surrey

Test tubes in the lab Research in the ATI Dance Research

'Neutralizing the Patient': Therapists' Accounts of Sexual Boundary Violations

Mcnulty, N, Ogden, J and Warren, F (2011) 'Neutralizing the Patient': Therapists' Accounts of Sexual Boundary Violations Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 20 (3). pp. 189-198.

Ogden 2011 Neutralising the patient' boundaryviolations.pdf
Available under License : See the attached licence file.

Download (84kB)
Text (licence)

Download (33kB)


Sexual contact between psychological therapists and their clients is regarded as highly damaging, both to the clients and to the professions, and regulatory bodies impose increasingly severe sanctions upon those practitioners who are disciplined. The present study captured therapists' accounts of sexual boundary violations through interpretative phenomenological analysis of interviews with three disciplined practitioners about their relationships with clients and former clients. The results highlighted two key themes relating to (i) therapists' efforts to neutralize the power imbalances between themselves and the clients by minimizing the clients' mental health problems, stressing the conventionality of the relationships and not testing the appropriateness of the relationship with their supervisors, and (ii) a shifting identity of the therapist between hero, victim, perpetrator, which permeated their accounts as the relationship moved from success to failure. In order for a sexual boundary violation to occur, the therapist needed to generate a sense of equivalent status between themselves and the client. As the relationships failed, the therapists' accounts of the clients shifted and the inequality of the relationship re-emerged. The results are discussed in terms of implicit theories and the implications for both training and supervision in the prevention of sexual boundary violations. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Key Practitioner Message: In accounting for their sexual boundary violations, this small sample of therapists minimized the power imbalances between themselves and their clients. Minimizing the client's mental health problems; stressing the conventionality of the relationship; stressing the therapist's own needs-all contributed to the neutralization of the client's patient status. A relationship with a client that we are not willing to discuss with our supervisor should be a cause for concern. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences > School of Psychology
Authors :
Mcnulty, N
Ogden, J
Warren, F
Date : 28 December 2011
DOI : 10.1002/cpp.799
Related URLs :
Additional Information : This is the accepted version of the following article: Mcnulty N, Ogden J, Warren F. 'Neutralizing the Patient': Therapists' Accounts of Sexual Boundary Violations. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 20(3):189-198, which has been published in final form at
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 28 May 2014 15:08
Last Modified : 09 Jun 2014 13:33

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

Information about this web site

© The University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, United Kingdom.
+44 (0)1483 300800