In debate or rhetoric, a “slippery slope” argument is known as an informal fallacy. The argument suggests that a relatively small first step inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some (generally undesirable) significant impact, in this case, a severe boundary violation. (Fischer, 1970) “The mere existence of a multiple relationship does not, in itself, constitute malpractice; rather, it is misusing power, harming, or exploiting a client that is unethical.” (Corey, Schneider-Corey, & Callanan, 2007, p. 269) The suggestion that the mere existence of a dual relationship leads to severe boundary violations is an unsubstantiated causal relationship. However, the correlation is made because severe boundary violations can and do happen, and inevitably they can coexist with multiple relationships.
Every therapist can probably relate to having friends that talk about their problems. I already play that informal role with a number of my friends and family (e.g. confidant, advisor). Generally speaking, it is probably fair to say that I should not engage in professional therapeutic relationships with these friends or family members. The definition of “formal” is one with a good deal of ambiguity however… I would be inclined to define it as “anyone who pays for my services or comes to the office for the visit.” I anticipate I will have difficulty “shutting down” my therapeutic mind when placed in that informal role. Within that context, there is potential for a bit of a “slippery slope.”
Another possible dual role I can anticipate is that of a court appointed evaluator. In this situation, once I have assumed that role (with the court as my client) I cannot then assume a role as a therapist for the same client. In that situation, I will likely need to refer the client to another primary therapist.
Corey, G., Schneider-Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (2007). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Fischer, D. H. (1970). Historians’ fallacies: Toward a logic of historical thought. New York, NY: Harper & Row.