Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 35–48

Boundary Issues and Multiple Relationships in Genetic Counseling Supervision: Supervisor, Non-supervisor, and Student Perspectives


  • Lidan Gu
    • Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of Minnesota
    • Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of Minnesota
  • Sonja Eubanks
    • University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Bonnie S. LeRoy
    • Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, Institute of Human GeneticsUniversity of Minnesota
  • Nancy Callanan
    • University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Original Research

DOI: 10.1007/s10897-010-9318-9

Cite this article as:
Gu, L., McCarthy Veach, P., Eubanks, S. et al. J Genet Counsel (2011) 20: 35. doi:10.1007/s10897-010-9318-9


Boundary issues and multiple relationships potentially affect all supervision interactions. Boundary crossings are departures from the strictest professional role and may or may not benefit supervisees. Boundary violations are outside common practice and may place supervisees at significant risk. Multiple relationships occur when supervisors concurrently or consecutively hold two or more roles with supervisees. Studies in other fields indicate supervisors and supervisees may be uncertain about professional conduct regarding these issues. In this study, genetic counselor supervisors (n = 126), non-supervisors (n = 72), and genetic counseling students (n = 129) completed an anonymous survey investigating four major questions: 1) Are various boundary issues and multiple relationships perceived as differentially appropriate? 2) Do supervisor, non-supervisor, and student perceptions differ? 3) What challenging situations have respondents experienced? and 4) What management strategies did they use? There was general agreement among groups in their appropriateness ratings of 56 hypothetical supervisor behaviors, although supervisor ratings tended to reflect stricter boundaries regarding the appropriateness of interactions than student ratings. A majority rated unavoidable boundary crossings and supervisor multiple relationships involving an academic relationship as most appropriate, and romantic/sexual multiple relationships and/or boundary violations as least appropriate. Analysis of respondents’ actual challenging situations revealed many involved boundary violations, placed students at risk of harm, and often resulted in student compliance.


Clinical supervisionGenetic counselingMultiple relationshipsBoundary issuesBoundary violationsEthics

Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2010