Do You Know Your Boundaries? Dual Relationship Question for LCSW & MFT Exam Prep

By Bethany Vanderbilt on September 12, 2012

The great wall of China

Back in July, my colleague, Emily Pellegrino wrote an excellent blog on the concept of boundaries; click here to read her article. We're going to take the concept a bit further this week and think about a clinical situation that might come up on an exam from the BBS, ASWB, or AAMFT. Let's get started with a practice question about dual relationships that might show up on a social work exam or MFT exam.


An unemployed therapist begins volunteering with a community organization providing free mental health services to homeless individuals and their families.  The therapist meets with a new client, a 19 year-old male, and learns that the client has culinary skills and the desire to become a chef.  The therapist's extended family owns a restaurant and the therapist believes they may be able to offer the client an internship that would later lead to a job.  What should the therapist do NEXT?

A. Consult with the program organizer to discuss linking the client to the job opportunity

B. Maintain the client-therapist relationship and support the client in identifying appropriate job opportunities

C. Validate the client's motivation and assist the client in contacting the restaurant to set up an interview

D. Refer the client to a job placement agency and provide the agency with the restaurant's information to maintain boundaries

So, what do the ASWB, BBS, and AAMFT want you to know about boundaries?  Well, for one thing, they want to make sure you know what constitutes a dual relationship and avoid it in all possible cases.  So what exactly is a dual relationship?  The Social Work Dictionary defines it as "the unethical practice of assuming a second role with the client, in addition to professional helper...Dual relationships tend to exploit clients or have long-term negative consequences for them," (Barker, 2003).


The correct answer to the question above is B: maintain the client-therapist relationship and support the client in identifying appropriate job opportunities.  A and C are not the best answers because connecting the client with a family-owned business constitutes a dual relationship and should be avoided, regardless of consultation.  D is not the best answer because it not only sets up a dual relationship between the therapist and client but also involves the therapist being dishonest with the client (making the connection secretly).  As good as it might feel in the moment to link the client to an opportunity that you have available, it runs the risk of changing the therapeutic relationship and hurting the client in the long run.  Boundaries around and within the therapeutic relationship should be clear -- that's what makes it a safe space for clients to explore and work on difficult issues.

Coming up next week: Transference and Countertransference

Think our straightforward, sensible approach could help you PASS your social work or MFT exam? If you're preparing for a social work exam, check out our Social Work Study Materials. If you're preparing for an MFT exam, check out our MFT Study Materials. Learn more about our offerings at The Therapist Development Center.

Looking for more practice questions and some study tips? Check out our new Social Work Exam Study Guide:

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