Stripping, Counseling Ethics, and Personal Values

So I had a meeting with one of my professors to discuss the fact that I dance and my anxiety around coming out to my cohort during a class presentation next week. What ensued was a very kind conversation in which I unexpectedly cried, and agreed with a lot of things that she talked to me about- primarily the ethical dilemma I will face if and when I have a client that has seen me perform (and yes, perform naked– the sexuality of it is the key piece here).

I came home and immediately broke down (I had been holding in everything during a three hour class). J didn’t really know what to do with me. He held me and got angry and confused on my behalf. It was helpful.

And basically where I am at right now is this:

What feels more unethical to me is to perpetuate a system that sees sex, sexuality, and female sexual empowerment as sinful, dirty, slutty, and abhorrent. I will not not go to our swingers’ clubs or to nude beaches or to strip clubs or gay bars or poly gatherings or dance because of the possibility that I might run into future clients. I will not not live my life in some tiny little box when I have done so much to live in a vast, fluid, and dynamic world.

There is something quite different to me about having an intimate and loving relationship with someone while simultaneously expecting to fulfill a professional role in the mental health care of that person’s life. Knowing a client in other superficial ways are quite different to me than intentionally creating a confusing and complicated layered relationship with someone.

[The code of ethics for MFTs stipulates that you, as a therapist, must not have sex with a client. Okay. And to refrain from having sex with a previous client for at least two years after termination of the therapist-client relationship. Hm, okay. Seems arbitrary, but okay. And with regards to multiple relationships, the code states:

Marriage and family therapists are aware of their influential positions with respect to clients, and they avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of such persons. Therapists, therefore, make every effort to avoid conditions and multiple relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation. Such relationships include, but are not limited to, business or close personal relationships with a client or the client’s immediate family. When the risk of impairment or exploitation exists due to conditions or multiple roles, therapists document the appropriate precautions taken. 

This is vague, and leaves a lot of gray area to be dealt with, and is in fact the basis for my ethics paper this semester- how to behave as a minority therapist seeking to work within minority communities (queer and poly, specifically). And this also relates to my potential multiple relationship with clients who could also be or were my customers in the strip club.]

My professor’s ethical dilemma example:
What if a couple comes to you for therapy, and one of the partners, let’s say the man, has seen you dance? What if you don’t realize it, but he does, and they continue coming to see you, and then his partner, a woman, finds out after a couple of months? What will that do to her?

My response during our meeting was: Yes, that’s really complicated. I hadn’t thought about that yet. That’s really complicated.

My response now:
If I were to realize when a new client walked in, I would be up-front about it, and offer to refer the person to another therapist. If I didn’t know right away, and the client realized later on and told me, I would refer the client to another therapist.

I am not about to further stigmatize or oppress my various sexual minority communities (queer, poly, sex worker) or myself by not allowing myself to be who I am in order to “protect” a client. This is life, and people deserve to live their lives. Including therapists. Including me.

Any readers out there who have had to navigate this in various ways? Please drop me a line 🙂

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