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Way Too Personal

The temptation and consequences of patient-therapist sex.

WebMD Feature

Secrets, dreams, fears, fantasies -- all are shared with the professionals we hire to guide us toward optimal mental health. It's no surprise that patients often become attracted to their therapists.

But woe to the shrink who allows this attraction to develop into a sexual relationship. In its Code of Conduct, the American Psychological Association (APA) forbids sexual relationships during therapy and for two years after therapy ends. Violating this code can bring expulsion from the APA, a revoked license, and a nasty lawsuit.

Every year, about 17 therapists are expelled or asked to resign from the APA due to sexual misconduct, according to the organization, which began keeping track of the numbers in 1993.

Now, the APA is considering changing its Code of Conduct to forbid post-therapy sexual relationships forever. This means that if a woman runs into her former therapist 10 years later, for example, and the two begin a sexual relationship, the therapist could risk his entire career.

Once Vulnerable, Always Vulnerable

Why such a hard-line attitude? "Because of the possibility of the patient being harmed," says Rhea Farberman, spokeswoman for the APA. People often arrive at therapy with many concerns, sometimes focusing on sexuality issues and distress about how they were parented, says Farberman. ''These vulnerabilities can remain for a lifetime, and a sexual relationship with a therapist could compound their problems," she adds.