How Are Professional Boundaries Maintained in Therapeutic Relationships?


    How Are Professional Boundaries Maintained in Therapeutic Relationships?

    Maintaining professional boundaries in therapeutic relationships is crucial, and to provide you with practical strategies, we've gathered insights from six health professionals. From a DBT therapist's perspective on recognizing and upholding therapeutic boundaries to an occuptional therapist's advice on balancing empathy with professional limits, these experts share their valuable experiences and tips.

    • Recognize and Uphold Therapeutic Boundaries
    • Adhere to Ethical Standards Consistently
    • Share Selectively, Maintain Professional Distance
    • Balance Empathy with Professional Limits
    • Identify Audience, Share Age-Appropriate Examples
    • Establish Clear Boundaries with Clients

    Recognize and Uphold Therapeutic Boundaries

    The best way to keep professional boundaries in place, in my opinion, is by first recognizing what lines you need to draw. We must be aware of the boundaries we need to hold in our therapeutic relationship in order to be successful. Whenever I am struggling with this concept, I like to ask myself, "Is this helpful for the client's treatment or progress?" If the answer is no, I must hold the boundary. I also remind myself that I am doing so for the sake of the client, which can help with any guilt that arises.

    It is easy to want to cross these lines, and we have to accept as therapists that this struggle is there for a reason. These boundaries help and protect not only our clients but also ourselves. Boundaries are all about self-love/self-care, and sometimes we need to lead by example for our clients.

    Trent Mahler, LCSW
    Trent Mahler, LCSWDBT Therapist

    Adhere to Ethical Standards Consistently

    Maintaining professional boundaries in therapy is essential for fostering a safe and effective therapeutic environment. By establishing clear guidelines and consistently adhering to ethical standards, therapists can ensure that the focus remains on the client's well-being and therapeutic goals. This involves avoiding dual relationships, respecting client autonomy, and seeking regular supervision to address any boundary challenges that may arise. Through ongoing self-awareness and commitment to professional development, therapists can uphold the integrity of the therapeutic relationship and promote positive outcomes for their clients.

    Maintaining professional boundaries in therapy extends beyond the therapy room, even in the digital realm. Once, a parent of a child client sent me a friend request on social media. Understanding the importance of maintaining a professional distance outside of therapy, I respectfully declined the request. In a follow-up session, I gently explained to the parent the reasons behind my decision, emphasizing the need to uphold confidentiality and protect the therapeutic relationship. By setting this boundary, I ensured that the therapy remained focused solely on the child's needs and prevented any potential blurring of lines between my personal and professional life. This instance reinforced the importance of maintaining clear boundaries to uphold the integrity of the therapeutic process.

    Kim Feeney
    Kim Feeneytherapist, Butterfly Beginnings Counseling

    Share Selectively, Maintain Professional Distance

    It's important to open up and share a little about yourself with your clients. We are asking them to trust us, so a little reciprocity goes a long way in building trust. However, it's important not to overshare, as building friendships and leaning on clients for support blurs the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. I have certain subjects of my personal life that I will discuss with clients, and other subjects are off-limits. For example, I share the superficial details of my family, like where we went on vacation, but I don't share the more significant details, like any family problems. I will share our love of whiskey and any local whiskey events, but I won't invite clients into my home for a drink.

    Bailey B. R. Maddox
    Bailey B. R. MaddoxLicensed Massage Therapist, Certified Lymphedema Therapist, The Supine Studio

    Balance Empathy with Professional Limits

    I believe there's a fine balance between maintaining a professional relationship with my clients and staying true to myself as a human being who connects with others. Being able to connect with my client on a personal and human level is important to me. It could look like me offering a listening ear or being able to relate to their story and understand where they are coming from. It helps me build rapport with my client so they can feel safe and entrust me with the information they choose to share with me.

    However, I am careful about how much empathy I demonstrate, as the client can misperceive this to be a deeper or more intimate relationship that goes beyond a therapeutic relationship, which increases the chances of crossing those professional boundaries.

    Given that therapists are in a position of power, it places the client in a vulnerable position where clients can risk being taken advantage of. Clients do regard clinicians/therapists as an authority figure from whom they seek support; therefore, it's essential to establish clear professional boundaries by explicitly stating your role and what they can expect in your therapeutic interactions. This will allow the practitioner to review with the client the reason they have chosen to work with you, especially if the conversation takes an unexpected turn.

    Mayleen Torres
    Mayleen TorresOT Reg (Ont.), Occupational Therapist

    Identify Audience, Share Age-Appropriate Examples

    Properly identifying your 'audience' is a key component to maintaining professional boundaries. It is much different for a school counselor, with students, than for an adult with adult clients. Still, both are incredibly important. One of the techniques we are often encouraged to utilize to build a trusting relationship with a student/client is personal sharing. An example would be telling a student/client who is sharing that they are struggling with anger, that you too have experienced anger and struggled to control it.

    This can reveal multiple things to a client: that you are not only trustworthy but also that you find them trustworthy. It also shows you have some credibility when it comes to helping them understand ways of appropriately overcoming their anger. Of course, with students, it is a must to ensure you're sharing age-appropriate examples. Sharing something about having been angry while not getting enough playing time on the basketball team is appropriate and useful. Sharing with a student that you struggled with anger as a college bartender who wasn't getting the kind of tips you felt you should have would cross multiple inappropriate lines.

    Josh PierceSchool Counselor, Kearney Catholic High School

    Establish Clear Boundaries with Clients

    As a registered psychologist, maintaining professional boundaries in a therapeutic relationship is of utmost importance to ensure ethical practice and client well-being.

    Professional boundaries define the appropriate limits and parameters of the therapeutic relationship, preventing potential exploitation, personal relationships, or conflicts of interest.

    One key aspect of maintaining boundaries is understanding the power differential inherent in the therapeutic relationship.

    The client is in a vulnerable position, seeking guidance and support, while the psychologist holds a position of authority and influence. It is the psychologist's responsibility to establish and uphold clear boundaries to protect the client and maintain the integrity of the therapeutic process.

    To ensure the maintenance of professional boundaries, I employ several strategies:

    1. Clarifying expectations: During the initial sessions, I clearly outline the roles, responsibilities, and boundaries of our therapeutic relationship. This includes discussing confidentiality, session formats, and the limits of our professional involvement.
    2. Maintaining objectivity: I strive to maintain an objective and impartial stance, avoiding personal disclosures or forming relationships outside the therapeutic context. This helps preserve the focus on the client's needs and prevents boundary violations.
    3. Respecting privacy: I respect the client's privacy and do not initiate or engage in personal interactions outside the therapeutic setting, such as on social media platforms or in public spaces.
    4. Addressing boundary issues: If a client initiates or expresses a desire for a personal relationship or boundary crossing, I address it directly and sensitively, reaffirming the professional nature of our relationship and the importance of adhering to ethical standards.
    5. Seeking consultation: In cases where boundary issues arise or I feel uncertain about maintaining appropriate boundaries, I consult with colleagues or supervisors to obtain guidance and ensure ethical decision-making.

    An example of this is being known as a weight-management psychologist in the small town in which I live.

    As a result, friends and friends of the family have often approached me asking for therapy. Unfortunately, due to our existing personal relationships, I have had to respectfully decline and refer them to other colleagues.

    Dr Becky Richards
    Dr Becky RichardsLead Psychologist, Second Nature