Boundaries are parameters in which the relationship between therapist and client occurs. In addition to safety, boundaries make relationships professional, give the client and therapist a legitimate sense of control in the relationship and result in the client getting the maximum benefit from the therapy. They are the line between the self of the therapist and that of the client.
Therapists are in a position of power, so they are responsible for managing issues of boundaries, even if a client’s behaviour seems to encourage boundary violations.
Most therapists wouldn’t knowingly cross boundaries, but difficulties in relationships do occur.
Common areas where boundaries can get unclear are:
Self-disclosure – If a therapist decides to tell a client something about themselves, they must ensure the information is related to the client’s therapeutic goal. Too much self-disclosure shifts the focus from the client to the therapist and confuse the client in terms of the roles and expectations of the relationship.
Gifts – Therapists shouldn’t offer or accept gifts of more than token value from their clients. Doing so may pressure the other party to reciprocate the gift and affect the quality of care.
Dual or overlapping relationships – These occur when a therapist has a position of significant authority or emotional relationship with their client. Examples of dual relationships include course instructor or workplace supervisor. Therapists are advised not to engage in dual relationships to avoid exploiting the power imbalance that exists between them and their client. In smaller communities, avoiding dual relationships may not be possible. This should be assessed on an individual basis. Clients and therapists should avoid situations outside of therapy sessions where one is in a position to provide special favours to or hold power over the other.
Becoming Friends – It is recommended that therapists don’t become friends with their clients. Even if a therapist goes to a special event involving a client, they must use their professional judgment. If a therapist becomes friends with a former client, the power imbalance from the relationship may still influence the client.
Romantic Relationships – Therapists are forbidden from dating their clients. Professional standards dictate that a care provider mustn’t engage in a sexual relationship with a client who received service within the past two years.
Other areas where therapists must use their professional judgment include:
-the space in which the therapy occurs
-not charging for services
-any physical contact with the client
Negotiating these issues are not clear-cut. They depend on many factors and must be decided in the best interest of the client.
Therapists must make sure their actions are in the best interest of the client and meeting the client’s need as opposed to their own.