Dual or multiple role relationships have been described as the most controversial ethical issue in modern psychotherapy. Dual or multiple role relationships describe the phenomena when a professional such as a doctor, or therapist combines another role with the existing professional relationship with a client. The stance taken in the majority of the professions today, as reflected in their ethical codes and policies, is that multiple role relationships are potentially unethical, and thus should be avoided. This prohibitive stance is also reflected in many of the ethical codes for clergy who are often seen as de-facto providers of mental health care. Many clergy regularly incorporate counselling into their pastoral care roles, even if they are not trained counsellors. Further, pastoral work often requires clergy to function in a plurality of roles. This places clergy in conflicting positions. On the one hand they are told to avoid multiple role relationships such as counselling, if they are not qualified to do so; while on the other hand, many clergy believe that counselling occupies a central role in the pastoral care tradition.
Multiple role relationships are therefore, considered to pose a particular difficulty for clergy. Yet, little is known about the actual beliefs and behaviours of clergy concerning multiple role relationships. This thesis explores the problem of multiple role relationships amongst a sample of Australian clergy who are under-researched in the literature. It is a descriptive study, which utilises an empirical method of practical theological interpretation. The research design comprised of a concurrent mixed method strategy – one qualitative and the other quantitative. The qualitative study consisted of a grounded theory analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews of 45 clergy. The quantitative study comprised of a mailed-out survey to 1954 clergy residing in Queensland and Northern Territory, Australia, which resulted in 768 returned questionnaires (return rate = 41%). The survey instrument was an 88-item Pastoral Counselling Questionnaire. Data was analysed using a mixture of descriptive and inferential statistics. The results of the two studies were combined and subjected to an exercise in theological reflection.
In this theological reflection, the interrelationship of the three key images of pastor, counsellor, and friend are explored in depth. As a result, it is shown how these images overlap and undergird the pluralistic nature of pastoral work. The combination of biblical and theological images, ministry philosophy, ecclesiastical context, pastoral wisdom, and sheer pragmatism is a powerful, collective force, which undergirds this role plurality. The role plurality inherent in pastoral ministry has direct bearing on the ways clergy view and practice pastoral counselling.
This is seen most clearly in the case of friendship. Clergy view friendship both in terms of a primary universal image of pastoral relationships, as well at times, a description of particular relationships. Thus, it is often difficult for clergy to differentiate between the two, which sometimes leads to role confusion. In the end, the majority of clergy in this sample took a pragmatic approach towards ministry relationships. Pastoral wisdom, congregational experience, human yearning for friendship and deeply held convictions about gospel relationships drove pastoral work, particularly situational counselling. The strengths and weakness of this approach are presented in a proposed theology of pastoral relationships. The thesis concludes with a number of key recommendations for clergy to more ethically manage multiple role relationships in pastoral work.