13 September 2009

Dual Relationships: Romantic Relationships with Clients

Paying attention to other ethics codes and looking at the reasons why, the answer to the sex/romantic dual relationship with clients issue can be summarized with a single word: Don't.

The problems with this are not abstract or theoretical. After studying the subject relatively extensively in the late 60's and early 70's, William Masters and Virginia Johnson put forth the statement that:

We feel that when sexual seduction of patients can be firmly established by due legal process, regardless of whether the seduction was initiated by the patient or the therapist, the therapist should be sued for rape rather than malpractice, i.e., the legal process should be criminal rather than civil.

Kenneth Pope and Valerie Vetter conducted research on the subject and found some tragic--and sadly unsurprising--results. Around 90% of patients who have had sex with a previous therapist have been harmed by it, and around 80% are harmed even when the relationship doesn't begin until after the therapeutic relationship ended.

Of course, reality is more interesting and nuanced than can be summarized in a single word, and as spirit workers we are faced with some unique challenges in this department. However, even if everything else I say about professionalism for spirit workers is ignored, this is the one thing I adamantly believe should not be. The risk for harm, unintentional abuse, and boundary violations are simply too great.

What Others Say

This is one of the older creeds among healing professions going back to the Nigerian Healing Arts. It is also found, though indirectly, among numerous shamanic cultures. Here are some general statements from other helping professions throughout the centuries:

Psychologists do not engage in sexual intimacies with current therapy clients/patients. -- APA 2002 Ethics Code

Sexual or romantic counselor–client interactions or relationships with current clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited. -- ACA 2005 Ethics Code

Sexual intimacy with patients/clients is unethical. -- AGPA (American Group Psychotherapy Association) and NRCGP (National Registry of Certified Group Psychotherapists) Guidelines for Ethics

Massage therapists shall [...] Refrain from engaging in any sexual conduct or sexual activities involving their clients.-- AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) Code of Ethics

In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves. -- Hippocratic Oath

You should not tell what you have learned from the time you enter a woman's room, and, moreover, you should not have obscene or immoral feelings when examining a woman. -- Seventeen Rules of Enjuin

The details, of course, vary. The ACA bans romantic or sexual counselor-client relationships for a period of five years following the end of the counseling relationship. The APA puts the number at two years. Both state that the therapist/counselor should document whether the relationship could then be viewed as exploitive or whether there is a potential of harm to the client.

I personally feel that two years makes a good absolute minimum, and that five years is a safer number.

Doing Work For Significant Others

While the statement don't sleep with your clients is relatively uncontroversial, one of the subtle ways this can be come a problem is in doing work for someone who you already have a preexisting romantic relationship with. Because surely there's no problem with helping them ward their home, right?

Of course there is. Just because the romantic relationship started first, doesn't mean that the situation won't compromise your ability to heal and cause long-term trust issues in the romantic relationship.

This is where we get into what constitutes a low powered relationship. It is one thing for me to offer friendly advice, to help ward someone's house, to have them help me ward my house, to receive help from the spirits on the behalf of someone else in an emergency situation, and another for me to enter into a professional, deeper or longer term relationship with a client who I am seeing romantically. The former are lower-power and usually single shot and do not require an intimate, healing relationship with the individual. It is also best even if these lower power relationships are kept professional in attitude and demeanor while they are taking place, just to establish that sense of space while the work is taking place.

It is also a good idea to document when such things happen, and to talk about it with a Teacher or another spirit worker, just to make sure that everything stays above board. Do not be afraid to refer them to another individual if the situation starts to get too high powered or if the boundary lines start to blur.

To do otherwise, to make them your client, creates an unstable situation where the position of trust you share in one domain will cause conflicts in the other. It can make a relationship unintentionally abusive, and your focus cannot be entirely on healing them as your client.

To illustrate, consider what happens if there are problems in the relationship, or even if you break up? Will they lose their spirit worker while simultaneously losing their significant other, should they? What if during a journey on their behalf you find out that you caused the problem that you are trying to help them with. What if it turns out that, as described in Sandra Ingerman's Soul Retrieval, you--entirely accidentally--steal part of their soul.

While all of these are manageable situations overall if the spirit worker and the romantic partner are different people, they can and do cause endless problems and are rife with potential unintentional abuses--let alone if either parties intentions are not entirely honorable.

In short, you can be their lover, you can be their spirit worker, but you cannot be both.


Although the prohibition against sex with patients reaches back beyond Freud, beyond the Hippocratic Oath, and at least as far as the code of the Nigerian Healing Arts, it was only with systematic research that began in the 1950s that the profession began to understand the depth, pervasiveness, and persistence of the harm that can result when therapists abuse their license, role, power, and trust. -- Kenneth S. Pope

The more we learn about shamanic practice and its links with psychology, especially now that our techniques are being used in psychological healing, the more it looks like the boundaries set by these other healing organizations--especially groups like the APA and ACA--are appropriate for us as spirit workers as well. We are members of a healing profession and our role as spirit workers is to help others, it only makes sense that we build our code of ethics off of others who are trying to do similar things.

Romantic relationships with clients are one of the most clear-cut areas in the domain of dual relationships. Fortunately, where professional and social relationships can be unavoidable in the communities we frequent, romantic entanglements are almost always entirely avoidable with existent clients, as is becoming the spirit worker for your current romantic partner.

Further Reading

10 September 2009

Dual Relationships and Ethics

As members of a healing profession we frequently run into one of the pitfalls of other healing professions: having more than one kind of relationship concurrent with, prior to, or subsequent to our professional relationship as spirit workers, occultists, or clergy. This relationship may be professional (e.g., someone comes to you for a soul retrieval who also happens to be your dentist), social, or financial in nature.

Many helping professions--from counselors and psychotherapists to clergy to doctors--have struggled with professional and emotional boundaries as they relate to dual relationships. As spirit workers our difficulties are not that different from counselors or psychotherapists, as we deal with many of the same forces in our client's lives.

Even so, we are faced with a variety of problems that make certain classes of dual relationships nearly unavoidable, and as spirit workers we operate in a realm with relatively undeveloped codes of professional ethics. Ellen C. Friedman, writing on the topic of the ethics of dual relationships and Wiccan clergy, states:

The lack of professional training for Wiccan clergy and the adolescent development of Wiccan ethics is a considerable problem. Wicca is a young religion and has yet to develop in these areas to the extent found in older religions.

In truth these problems are not unique to Wicca, and we could substitute Neopagan for Wiccan and be very accurate for most of the available trads and clergy out there. This is not to demean those who are out there and who are operating relatively in the dark, and there are some great programs, such as Cherry Hill Seminary out there, but there are very few good, comprehensive analysis of dual relationships in a pastoral setting.

I personally believe that it would serve us well to follow a similar code of ethics to that employed by counselors, psychotherapists, and pastoral counselors, or at least to use their practice as a starting point.

Dual Relationships Defined

The American Counseling Association's (ACA) 2005 Code of Ethics gives a great deal of guidance around relationships with clients, but--in a departure from previous versions of the guide--does not actually use the term dual relationships. This wasn't because the concept is no longer important, but rather because the term itself was problematic. To quote Dr. Rocco Cottone, who was on the ACA Ethical Code Revision Task Force:

When you sit down and analyze the concept of dual relationships, you will find that it relates to three different types of relationships: sexual/romantic relationships, nonprofessional relationships and professional role change. The first category, sexual and romantic relationships with current clients, is banned by the code of ethics because we have evidence of the damage that results. The second type of relationship, nonprofessional relationships, encompasses those activities where you might have contact or active involvement with a client outside of the counseling context. The third type of relationship that the old dual relationship term encompassed is a professional role change. An example is when you shift from individual counseling to couples counseling. Moving from one type of counseling to another with one client can be really confusing and ethically compromising.

So, in the end, moving away from the concept of dual relationships was really about the analysis of what the dual relationship term meant and the confusion it caused because of multiple meanings. The new ethics code addresses all three types of roles and relationships with clients.

Despite the split into three separate categories, there lacks an effective term--other than dual relationship--that covers all three under some other heading, and the term is still in common use among other therapeutic organizations. For example, the American Association of Pastoral Counselor's Code of Ethics echoes previous versions of the ACA's ethics codes, and states outright:

We recognize the trust placed in and unique power of the therapeutic relationship. While acknowledging the complexity of some pastoral relationships, we avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of clients. We avoid those dual relationships with clients (e.g., business or close personal relationships) which could impair our professional judgement, compromise the integrity of the treatment, and/or use the relationship for our own gain.

Due to the widespread nature and lack of a better term, I will continue to use the term in this blog to refer to all three categories mentioned by Rocco Cottone, without attaching any specific stigma to properly conducted dual relationships. These may, in fact, be beneficial or even necessary and this should be recognized where appropriate to do so. I will also break them down into separate categories where appropriate, so that each may be better addressed separately.

Separation and Boundaries in Pagan Society

One of the challenges that face modern day spirit workers is that it is difficult--if not impossible--to maintain strict separation from our clients. First, it is not uncommon for our client-base to come from within our chosen families, and for the groups that we teach or work for to be our close friends as well.

Some shamans live on the outskirts of the society they are part of for various spiritual or practical reasons, which can help provide this separation. For those of us who are not in that position, however, this poses quite a problem.

Friedman, speaking of Wiccan psychotherapists, says that:

Wiccan clergy psychotherapists appear particularly vulnerable to ethical dilemmas caused by dual relationships. Complications unique to Wicca include the intimacy required of its clergy within the ritual context and within their covens. Covens serve not only as congregation, but also as seminaries and in some instances as family of choice.

She then goes on to offer four alternatives: Avoid clients within the community, practice low-power relationships, negotiate each relationship on a case-by-case basis, and use established best-practices that involve consultations with others.

For spirit workers the first two options are clearly untenable since we tend to serve the communities that we are part of, and while we can occasionally do low-powered work for clients some of what we do (e.g., soul retrieval, serving as a medium to the gods) is much deeper and requires relations that are closer to that of a therapist.

What I suggest is that we approach things with a hybrid of the last two. This means:

  • Adopting our own ethics guidelines and best practices from those of other helping organizations, such as the ACA.
  • Document our agreements and the dual relationships that we have.
  • Consider how our dual relationships might be unintentionally exploitive or otherwise harmful to our clients.
  • Openly discuss--and negotiate--our boundaries with our clients, both from their perspective and ours, documenting the results.
  • Use lower powered but still professional relationships where appropriate--keeping with all of the above points--and not being afraid to refer people to others when we feel that our position compromises our relationship in some way.


This is merely scratching the surface. I am going to go more into each of the three types of dual relationship (social, sexual/romantic, and professional) and the challenges and guidelines for each of them in the upcoming posts. Feedback or suggestions, as always, are welcome.

Further Reading

08 September 2009

On Language and Civil Discourse

This week, President Obama is going to address the nation on the matter of healthcare reform. This is, in part, a response to a great deal of mudslinging that has taken place over the last few weeks, where labels such as "communist" and "Nazi" have been used both widely and incorrectly by opponents of this bill.

There are a huge number of legitimate discussions that we can--should be--having around the health care legislation, but we can't because we are overwhelmed by words such as death panels, rationing, and socialist.

My goal here is not to address the health care debate, but rather to talk about the uses and abuses of language. It occurred to me, while watching the debate, that this is something that comes up in religious debates (and any talk about BDSM, for that matter) all of the time. We see words bandied about that, even if they are true, are getting in the way of the important parts of the debate.

As the quote (attributed to Gautama Buddha, but disputed) goes, Words have the power to both destroy and heal.

These terms may--or may not--be honest expressions of feeling, but they are not honest, factual evaluations that others can or should use to make decisions. When emotive terms get used in these ways they tend to distort the debate and interfere with the process of rational decision making which, I tend to think, is precisely the point.

This is especially true when those words have meaning and are being used out of context (e.g., Nazi) but it also applies to more straightforward emotional judgements, such as vile. Not that these words do not have use in public discourse, but it frequently seems that they are substituted for actual judgement, or to sway or convince people who might otherwise be undecided.

It is one thing to conclude that certain behavior is contemptible and to start out by calling another person contemptible. I've seen some statements that were so ridden with such statements that, while the author's vitriol was plain, I learned nothing of use about the group or individuals of whom they were speaking.

This seems to be particularly true in both religious and political discussions, where people seem to be quick to judge, quick to say UR DOIN IT WRONG, quick to dismiss, and slow to understand. Such tactics, however, get in the way of actual discussion about the important differences and can actually hurt the accusers argument.

This is, in essence, a plea for civility in public discourse on these matters. Please, by all means, continue to call others out when you see something amiss or to bring things to the light that need to be discussed, both in the political and religious arena. These are good and valuable things, but they need to be done with an eye toward civil discourse and an understanding that not everyone in the room necessarily is starting from the same premises.

Further Reading

04 September 2009

Book Review: Soul Retrieval, Mending the Fragmented Self

Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self by Sandra Ingerman (✭✭✭✭✬, 4.5/5)

I decided to read this book after reading Lupa's book review where she gave it "Five pawprints out of five" and concluded:

While there are occasional things I personally disagree with, overall I think this is a great text. Once I’m ready to do soul retrieval in practice, this will be an invaluable guide.

This piqued my interest enormously. I had seen this book on Amazon before, but given that it is from a Core Shaman perspective and I don't currently do soul retrievals I didn't pay much attention to it one way or the other. After some recent events have lead me to think that I have some soul fragments I will need to retrieve and after reading Lupa's review, however, I decided to go ahead and read the book.

I am extremely glad that I did. The content is well laid out and excellent. Safety and ethics are both discussed, and at no point does the author treat this as safer than dreaming, conflate it with guided meditation, or treat it as something that can be learned in a weekend workshop. She also addresses topics such as soul theft, rape, and incest and how soul retrieval works/can help with these.

She goes on to say that:

Learning to do shamanic healing takes time, lots of practice, and experience. I will share the details of my work to demystify it for you as you read on. I do not intend to teach you how to do soul retrieval in this chapter--that, I believe, is unethical. And I feel it is just as unethical for one to try soul retrieval after just reading this book.

If we truly want to honor the spirits and use the ancient ways in a powerful way, we must maintain integrity in the work at all times. Please do not dishonor yourselves, the people who are important to you, or the spirits by trying soul retrieval without the appropriate training.

Suffice it to say, after growing a little fed up with one of the most difficult techniques in shamanism getting relegated to being trained in weekend seminars, it was extremely refreshing to see this in front of the chapter on technique.

The book is spread into 11 chapters split into three parts:

  • Part I: The Soul and Soul Loss

    • Chapter 1: Soul Loss
    • Chapter 2: Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 3: Tracking Lost Souls

  • Part II: The Search

    • Chapter 4: A Question of Technique
    • Chapter 5: Classic Examples of Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 6: Community
    • Chapter 7: When Souls Have Been Stolen

  • Part III: Welcome Home, Healing Through Wholeness

    • Chapter 8: Effects of Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 9: Relationships and Sexual Issues
    • Chapter 10: Life After Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 11: Preparing for Your Own Soul's Return

The first part deals with the nature of soul loss, what soul retrieval can look like, the nature of the worlds, and the tools that a spirit worker might use in their practice. It provides an effective demonstration of the concept of soul retrieval, without requiring a detailed knowledge of existent jargon. I believe this book can be effectively read by someone who has just heard of it and is considering it as an option, as well as someone who is considering performing it in the future. There is something of value in this book for both groups, despite that soul retrieval is one of the more difficult areas of shamanism.

The second part goes into more details about the process of looking for souls, and goes into more depth with the mechanics of Ingerman's practice in this field. She also gets into examples of things that cause people to lose parts of their soul, including soul theft and the loss of community.

Part three talks about the repercussions, positive and negative, of soul retrieval and gives advice on what to expect from soul retrieval. She emphasizes the need for people to do this in their own time when they are truly ready for change in their own life.

Spread throughout the book are exercises designed to help with your own healing and understanding of shamanic practice, along with copious case studies derived from her own practice. In a sense, I feel like this was the book I was looking for when I read Gagan's Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet. Something filled with case studies that focuses on how this helps along with some psychological theory, rather than focusing on where the issues come from that shamanic practices might be able to help with.

On the issue of reality in this practice, Ingerman states that:

As you read this book and wonder whether or not what I am talking about is real, I ask you not to enter into a battle between the right brain and left brain. Simply read the material and experience it. After eleven years of working with the shamanic journey I know nonordinary reality is real. But I don't intend to convince you of that. For me, the big questions are these: Does the information that comes from a shamanic journey work? Does this information make positive changes in a person's life? If so, who cares if we are making it up?

Suffice it to say, given my own perspectives on the subject, this does it work attitude is something I am thrilled to see in well-regarded books on the subject, especially those published in 1991.


In aggregate, I felt that this book is excellent. I have some disagreements with the author, but they don't really detract from the usefulness or power of the book. She doesn't flinch for describing things as real, including interactions with power animals and the goddess Isis. My only real issues with the book are a lack of an effective index and that, while it discusses illness from a shamanic perspective, shows a lack of analysis on when soul retrieval might be counter-indicated despite a client's insistence of wanting to continue (admittedly, this latter is a difficult and somewhat fuzzy category, and likely beyond the scope of the book).

These, however, are functionally minor points. Highly recommended.

02 September 2009

Understanding, Skill, and Martial Arts

Since at least as long as people have been writing about martial arts, we see discussions of the form my martial art is better than your martial art. This ranges from feelings of philosophical superiority, to a belief that a single cage match ala UFC actually proves anything about the arts being practiced.

In the old fencing schools secret techniques abounded, which were entirely focused on keeping the individual alive by holding that the opponent had not seen the technique before and thus could not be ready for it. To quote Egerton Castle's Schools and Masters of Fence:

Each individual master taught merely a collection of tricks that he had found, in the course of an eventful life, to be generally successful in personal encounters, and had practiced until the ease and quickness acquired in their execution made them very dangerous to an unscientific opponent.

In truth secret techniques only get you so far and the artist matters more than the art. This doesn't mean that all martial arts are equal or that they take equivalent paths, nor does it mean that they don't have different focuses or aren't better suited to different types of people, just that what makes or breaks a school tends to be the teacher, and what makes a practitioner good tends to be that individual and the training they have received and not the style that they practice or any number of secret techniques that they might know.

One style and school might be more conducive to self defense, another might be more suitable to fighting in a cage, a third might be better fit for finding inner harmony. All three, given enough time and enough dedication, are probably useful for all three purposes, but their focuses are going to be different and they might be better for different types of people. They also will each achieve the pieces in a different order, and at a different pace.

What I tend to look for, on walking into a martial arts school to gauge the quality of the teaching, is to look at how faithful they are to the fundamentals. If I see sloppy stances, sloppy weight control, or poor attitude I am more likely to hold that against the practitioner or--if it is endemic--the school than I am the style, even if that style has a different set of assumptions or focuses from my own, and even if the students can kick everyone else around easily. Taekwon Do isn't inferior to Hapkido because the latter is more real world, it simply has different areas of focus.

Then there are the paths that harm or are actively dangerous. Recently I saw some people stretching in such a way that they are likely to destroy their knees, I've seen martial arts schools which are basically just excuses to beat up on the younger students, and I've seen more than a few black belt mills where the people graduating have paid a lot of money, but have not received a lot of quality training. I've seen other martial artists who sleep with their students, consensually, but this still tends to mean that either the relationship or the training--or both--will get compromised.

In a sense, we have run into an analogous situation in the Neopagan world. There is a lot of fighting back-and-forth between those who want to treat every path as equally valid, and those who view there as being One True Path, with many gradations in between. We see those who grudgingly acknowledge that other paths might be valid, but theirs is clearly the best. Some who will acknowledge and allow for any sort of variance in Neopagan paths, while simultaneously snubbing Abrahamic religions. We see others who think that Occultism--or worse, Shamanism--is something that everyone should do no matter what their background. There is also plenty of ur doin' it wrong for people who don't practice in a sanctioned way.

There are also cults, toxic relationships, bad boundaries, and dysfunctional group dynamics ranging from mild to dangerous spread throughout the Neopagan world. There are people who think that burning slips of paper will make everything better, and well-recognized authors spreading outright falsehoods, dangerous information, or encouraging destructive behavior in children. There are those who seem to think that the gods are there for you without ever yourself being there for them, and those who think that it is acceptable to take without giving anything in return.

There are also amazingly positive paths that engender healing, others that help focus discipline, and others which help us in touching Mystery.

The trick is that it is not always easy to tell, from the surface, what is going on. Years ago I was working at a university, and the guy who worked next to me doing data entry tried on a regular basis to get me to go to his church and attend his church events. He was mostly respectful of the boundaries I set: he wouldn't push if I said no, wouldn't try and actively convert me beyond trying to get me out to his church events, but he would regularly ask and we'd talk casually about religion and he'd talk about the salvation he found on this path. He was in a fundamentalist branch of Christianity and on a very straight and very narrow path, and believed that everyone would be better off on this same path and would find salvation through it.

Suffice it to say, such is pretty much the exact opposite of what I was looking for or what I needed.

As we talked, I found out more about history. He had been in a gang and had scars running down his face from being assaulted outside of his home with a glass bottle. He showed me pictures of his pets: a dog, a cock, and a Siamese fighting fish all of which he used to have fight other gang members animals for sport and cash. We only scratched the surface, but it was clear that his history was dark and brutal. For him, he needed the straight-and-narrow path, at least for the foreseeable future, and he needed the salvation and forgiveness he had found through Jesus the Christ of Nazareth. He accepted responsibility for his past, but had found a brighter future thanks to Christianity.

I would have preferred if he realized that I didn't need that same salvation and that my path could be different and I could still be happy with it, but I can't really fault him too seriously for--having found this happiness and this salvation--wanting to share it with others. I also can't criticize his having found this brighter future through Christianity, even though I feel that for me that such a path would destroy me, just as my path would probably destroy him.

The important thing is that there are things that we can learn from one another if we are willing to listen, and that neither path is invalid despite that both look very different. While I can sometimes look at something and say that is ineffective or that looks destructive, I can't always be sure that I am right so long as we are mostly staying within certain fuzzily-defined bounds.

I have no good answer on how we can tell which is which, because what is functional and healing for one person may seem like the epitome of Evil™ to another, especially if neither side takes the time to understand the other. What I would like to see is an opening of dialogues between disparate and disagreeing groups, done with understanding and compassion and without the need to prove one is better (or worse) than the other, done for the sake of sharing information and improving ourselves and our service to the gods and society. Done without distortions and with a great deal of self-honesty.

Then, perhaps, we can find our way forward.

Further Reading

Not Dead Yet

Just been very busy for the last few months. Things should be clearing up in a bit and I'll get back to posting essays ^_^