The development of dual relationships for social workers in rural communities

Tammy Piché, Keith Brownlee, Glenn Halverson


Mental health professionals who work in small, rural communities often have to contend with dual and multiple relationships. The more integrated service providers are within the community, the more likely they will encounter overlapping personal and professional relationships with clients. Although there is extensive literature on the potential risks of dual and multiple relationships, little empirical evidence exists which addresses the contextual factors that specifically lead to these relationships in rural social work practice. This qualitative study explored the experiences of twelve social workers or social service workers practicing in northern and northwestern Ontario. Findings provide some insight into the complexity and dynamics of dual and multiple relationships in small towns, as well as worker perspectives on the specific contextual circumstances that result in mental health workers encountering these relationships. The unique contribution of this paper to the literature is to highlight factors that increase the likelihood of dual and multiple relationships when they are not as obvious as a clear and immediate conflict of interest. Greater clarity about such precipitating factors will contribute to supervision, training, and sound policy development informed by contextual sensitivity.


social work; rural practice; dual relationships; ethics; ethical dilemmas

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