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Trainee/Staff Relationships Guidelines

The University of Texas Medical Branch Psychology Training Program has a training mission to promote the personal and professional development of all trainees. This process of development is fostered by respect for each trainee as an individual and an atmosphere of openness and honesty in communication is expected. Our goal is to create an environment conducive to learning where trainees feel safe and respected.

The training environment can be an emotionally charged atmosphere that provides a catalyst for trainee or supervisor to experience a variety of feelings, including sexual attraction, towards each other. Trainees in particular are at an early stage of professional collegial relationships that will go through many evolutionary stages. Each supervisor, however, provides a model of ethical and professional behavior and it is incumbent on the training staff to honor the boundaries of the professional relationships that are formed with the trainees. There is no such thing as a consensual sexual relationship between trainee and staff due to the power imbalance and authority the staff member has over the trainee.

Research has been conducted into the negative effects of sexual relationships with clients, students and supervisees. Relationships of this nature impair the supervisor's ability to engage effectively in the supervision process and to provide objective feedback to the trainee or to staff colleagues about the supervisee's development. The trainee is vulnerable and may experience many negative feelings including exploitation, anger, and confusion. Additionally, this type of relationship can have a negative impact on the experience of the other trainees, by isolating one trainee who must carry the burden of a secret. The sense of group trust in the training program is seriously diminished as the trainees question the ability of agency staff members to honor professional boundaries. A dual relationship will also have a negative impact on the psychology training programs an organization. The sense of secrecy, the violation on an ethical code, and the need for administrative action will have a harmful effect on the morale of all staff members. Clearly dual sexual relationships have a negative impact on everyone involved. Therefore, as indicated in the APA ethical guidelines, it is the UTMB Training Program's policy that sexual relationships between trainees and staff are prohibited.

There is a need to distinguish sexual attraction from sexual acting out. Supervising staff who feel a sense of attraction to a trainee that may be interfering with that staff member's sense of objectivity and ability to provide supervision should consult with another staff member, or the Training Director. Supervisors are encouraged to discuss any feelings they have about the trainees. This will provide staff an opportunity to assess their current needs and the implications of any possible courses of action.

Trainees who find themselves attracted to supervisors or staff should talk about their feelings with colleagues, training team members, or the Training Director to assess their current needs and possible future behaviors.

If a training team or associated faculty member's behavior crosses the boundaries of a professional relationship with a trainee, an administrative review of the situation will be conducted. The staff member may be subject to removal from the training team or associated faculty according to the relevant APA ethical guidelines.

Last Updated: 08/12/2013