Does a dual role inevitably lead to a dual relationship? Ethical dilemmas of the priest-counsellor

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Lonelle, Johnson
Issue Date
BA (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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The objective of this study is to consider the unique dual role of the priest who is also a practising psychotherapist, and how those dual roles may be helpful to or hinder the therapeutic relationship. The study also explores whether this dual role inevitably gives rise to the ethical dilemma of dual relationships and other deviations from the traditional rules and practices of counselling and psychotherapy. The research employed a qualitative approach using semi structured face to face interviews with six Irish Catholic priests who also practice as counsellors in Ireland. The interviews were recorded using a digital recording device, transcribed into text and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis techniques. The results reveal that dual roles do not inevitably lead to dual relationships and that in fact the priest-counsellors researched in this study are very aware of the inherent danger of the dual relationship and endeavour to avoid them. For the most part, the dual roles of those interviewed are kept separate. Also, the dual role of priest-counsellor did not affect adherence to traditional rules and practices of counselling and psychotherapy. The results outline the benefits and potential problems that the priest-counsellor dual role can bring to the therapeutic relationship. Recommendations for further research include prospective and existing client perceptions of the dual role of the Irish priest-counsellor and the benefits and problems with same. Also a detailed exploration of the relevant Codes of Ethics and the Irish priest-counsellor’s experience of same may be of benefit.