The therapeutic relationship between an RT and his/her patient/client is one of empathy, trust and respect. It is important to acknowledge that there exists within this relationship an inherent power imbalance. The RT has access to specialized knowledge, privileged information that the patient/client does not have. The RT also has the ability to advocate on behalf of the patient/client. Therefore, it is essential that RTs respect the relationship they have with their patient/client though effective communication, patient/client centered care and the maintenance of professional boundaries.
In a therapeutic relationship with a patient/client, the best interests of that individual always come first, unless doing so would endanger the welfare of others. The patient/client’s vulnerability places the obligation on the RT to manage the relationship appropriately. Examples that the RT may be crossing professional boundaries in the RT’s therapeutic relationship are:
- Disclosing personal problems to a patient/client;
- Accepting gifts from a patient/client that could potentially change the nature of the relationship and influence the level or nature of care; or
- Spending time outside the therapeutic relationship with a patient/client.
RTs also have professional relationships with all other members of the healthcare team with whom they interact with as they carry out their duties. In some of these relationships, a power imbalance mirrors that in the RT’s therapeutic relationship (e.g., staff RT supervising Student RTs, Charge Therapist overseeing newer staff RTs). It is essential for the RT to adhere to the same standard for the maintenance of these professional relationships as they do in their therapeutic relationships.