Question

Dear Anthony,
I have a dilemma that I am wanting to work through. I would benefit from your insights.
I have been working with a couple who have been experiencing some anxiety and pre-marital concerns. We have worked though their problem issues and I am about to begin termination process with them.

My dilemma is this: The couple has asked me to officiate at their wedding.

The first time they brought it up I told them that it presents certain ethical concerns. However, they asked again recently. We have since discussed dual relationships and confidentiality concerns; yet they would still like me to officiate. I’m inclined to honor their request. I have a background in pastoral ministry and have the credentials necessary to officiate. Can I honor this request and also maintain appropriate ethical boundaries?

-Counselor X

Answer

Greetings Counselor X,
This is a good question. My best guess is that this is one of those situations where, if everything goes according to plan, everything is likely to be okay. That said, we have an ethical responsibility to avoid dual roles. Whenever we add a dual role to a professional counseling relationship we are entering a dangerous zone.

As I think of where things could go wrong, the following comes to mind. Besides confidentiality issues, officiating at the wedding may lead to interacting with the clients in a more casual/non-professional way. If marital issues occur in the first year of marriage, as they often do, this may make it very difficult for the couple to come back to you for professional care.

If any counselor were dead set on doing this, I would recommend that the counselor formally terminate with the clients and inform them that if they needed couples counseling at any time in the future that he/she would not be able to help them.

I know that pastors will sometimes provide pre-marital counseling, and then officiate a wedding. However, if a couple comes to a counseling center they are interacting with you under in the role of Licensed Mental Health Professional, not pastor. The ethical restrictions are very different.

I read an (older) article today about ethical boundaries, and it mentions that (at the time of publication) it may be okay (with precautions) to attend a formal ceremony, such as a wedding or commitment ceremony. If being in attendance at a ceremony is an area of caution, it seems that officiating the ceremony, or attending the reception after the ceremony, is likely an ethical violation. The article also talks about necessary documentation, which you can read here: http://ct.counseling.org/2006/12/new-guidelines-on-dual-relationships/

All this to say, I think your initial instincts were right on this one. I would recommend not officiating the ceremony.

Do you have any other thoughts? Have you found any other ethical precedent of professional counselors officiating a wedding?

Respectfully,
Anthony

Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore Ph.D. is Founder and CEO at Thriveworks--a counseling practice, focused on premium client care, with 80+ locations across the USA. He is Private Practice Consultant for the American Counseling Association, columnist for Counseling Today magazine, and Author of How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a multistate Licensed Professional Counselor and has been quoted in national media sources including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and CBS Sunday Morning.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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