At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships

by Marilyn R. Peterson. W. W. Norton, 1992.

Social worker Marilyn Peterson has written a provocative book for lawyers, doctors, teachers, therapists, and the clergy. What do these professionals have in common? Their success depends upon the building and maintenance of a relationship with clients in which the professional must hold greater power than the client. The book describes in detail how and why this relationship can be severely damaged by either professional or client. It also suggests a path for healing the relationship that the author candidly states may or may not be useful in this country’s litigious climate.

For members of the clergy, it is best to turn directly to page 179 in order to become aware at the outset of the author’s beliefs concerning both professional training and societal expectations that put a pastor at risk for boundary violations: "…They are disadvantaged by the egalitarian admonition against doing anything that sets them above and apart from their flock. They therefore deny or work to reduce or hide the power differential inherent in the clergy-parishioner relationship. They believe that having more power than others is presumptuous, an affront to the concept of a shared ministry and a contradiction to the spirit of humbleness before God…."

In reading 'At Personal Risk', senior ministers will broaden their understanding of a complex issue that has been both familiar and troublesome throughout their ministries. The book may also be useful as the basis of fruitful discussions with new associates.