Appropriate Professional Relationships: A Survey of Clergy and Psychologists' Perceptions and Behaviors
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Educational Policy and Leadership
The issue of sexual contact within a professional context has become a focus of research concern in recent years. Licensed psychologists have professional guidelines which prohibit sexual contact with clients. The ordained clergy are a group of professionals for whom such guidelines are presently being developed. The present study focused upon four types of behaviors that have been associated with professional sexual contact: non-erotic touch, erotic touch, involvement in dual relationships and suggestive (non-touch) behaviors. Surveys, which asked participants to rate their use of and their perception of the ethical character of these behaviors, were sent to 300 Licensed psychologists and 300 ordained, protestant clergy (600 total) in the State of Wisconsin (return rate=360). The data from these surveys was used to evaluate the differences between these two groups regarding the four types of behaviors. Results showed significant variability between the clergy and the psychologists in their reports of use and their perceptions of the ethical character of non-erotic touch, involvement in dual relationships and suggestive behaviors. Female clergy reported using and perceiving the behaviors of non-erotic touch more of the time than did male clergy. Male psychologists reported that they perceived the suggestive behaviors to be ethical more of the time than did female psychologists. Only one respondent reported involvement in erotic touch behaviors. The hypotheses about the differences between clergy and psychologists in their use of non-erotic touch and involvement in dual relationships were supported. It was determined that further study was needed, particularly in the area of understanding both clergy/psychologist and laity/client perceptions of the issues surrounding sexual contact in the professional setting. Ways in which training, age and years of experience contribute to behaviors of clergy and psychologists need to also be explored, as well as the relationship of professional perceptions of power with professional sexual contact behaviors.