Conceptualising and communicating
When I talk about boundaries with my clients I often get them to consider the boundaries which surround their homes, how they are delineated and what purpose do they serve? What are they made of? What is it like living within or without them?
Around our homes boundaries are there to make it clear where my property ends and yours begins. In some cases they constructed very clearly and sometimes it is a matter of cultural understanding that beyond a certain point the property stops being public and becomes private.
Like the boundaries around our homes personal boundaries create privacy, they prevent people venturing in where they are not welcome; they protect our resources and keep us safe when we are vulnerable. If they are too high or too thick they can isolate us and disconnect us from the people around us and restrict our world view. If they are not clear or strong enough we can end up exhausted, resentful and even unsafe.
Healthy personal boundaries allow us to make aware choices about how much and what of ourselves we share with others. We can make these choices to maintain our privacy and safety or to open up and allow others in to know who we are and even what our vulnerabilities are.
A person parented by healthy, loving, consistent, respectful, parents with good personal boundaries learns to regulate what is appropriate to share physically and emotionally and what is not appropriate, in most interpersonal situations.
For a person who has experienced trauma or neglect, especially in childhood it can be different, the sense of what and how much is safe or helpful to share at any particular stage in the development of healthy relationships is often compromised.
Maintaining both personal and professional therapeutic boundaries is a dynamic process which requires ongoing awareness, attention and communication as a relationship develops.
As therapists it is our responsibility to maintain the boundaries of our therapeutic relationships through action and clear communication. Clear boundaries enable the people with whom we work to feel safe, to know what is expected of them and what they can expect from us. This clarity is essential to create the safety required to for effective therapeutic work to take place.
As therapists our boundaries are guided by our professional codes of conduct, the foundation of which is the responsibility to ‘do no harm’. It is our ethical and legal responsibility to follow these codes to keep both our clients and ourselves safe within the therapeutic relationships we develop.
Beyond this each therapist develops their own way of building and holding their professional boundaries with clients. These more subtle aspects of our professional boundaries will be influenced by the theories and philosophies which underpin our training, our individual personalities, professional values and experiences and the different client groups with whom we work.
Read my next post for some simple, practical guidelines I have developed for myself to maintain clear professional boundaries.