A boundary in psychotherapy is much like a boundary on a piece of land. It’s a line that both people recognize and honor. It’s a line that says where the relationship begins and ends. It sets the therapist apart from other people in your life.
There are really good reasons why your therapist can’t be your friend and still be your therapist. The therapeutic relationship is different by design. It’s an important difference in that professional boundaries are in place and should remain that way.here are really good reasons why your therapist can’t be your friend and still be your therapist. The therapeutic relationship is different by design. It’s an important difference in that professional boundaries are in place and should remain that way.Different models for therapy and different disciplines have different ideas about what the boundary closes in and closes out. Different therapists operate according to their training and their own ideas of what it means to “bind” the relationship. It’s why some therapists offer you tea and others don’t; why some therapists end sessions with a hug and others don’t even shake hands; why some will stop and chat in the aisle of the grocery store and others aren’t approachable; why some therapists will allow going over time during a client’s crisis and others feel it’s important to keep a strict end time.
But regardless of the specifics, therapists generally agree that defined boundaries provide safety for both the client and the therapist by clearly establishing a structure for the relationship that is consistent, reliable and predictable. The intent is to ensure that what happens in session is for the client’s benefit, not the therapists. Every discussion topic and interaction is as deliberate as possible and intended to move the client to his or her therapeutic goals.
Please its important for you to ask your therapist about responsible for making boundaries clear at the outset of your work together. Basics like when and where you will meet, fees, consequences for you not showing up for an appointment, and expectations for in office vs. out of office contact should be spelled out clearly. He or she should carefully explain the rules of confidentiality so there can be no misunderstanding about who has access to information from your sessions and what would trigger notification of authorities.
By maintaining professionalism, the therapist keeps your relationship clear. There is much less danger that you will misunderstand concern for your safety for personal, even romantic, interest. It lets you explore your feelings, even possible romantic or sexual feelings, without fear that the therapist will cross the line. Sometimes this is crucial to healing, especially if your issues include dealing with past abuse.
As a psychologist let me tell you another thing,sometimes therapists bend their own rules. A therapist may insist that all therapy happen in the office, for example, but decide to take a walk around the block with an antsy teenager who just can’t sit comfortably with an adult. Or he might go outside with an agoraphobic client as part of a desensitization process. Another therapist might make an exception when someone is in a hospital or home bound due to injury. Still another might not generally accept invitations to go to a client’s milestone events (wedding, funeral, graduation) but may make a careful decision to break that rule when it would be helpful to the client.
The important factor in making a decision to cross a boundary is the mutual judgment that it is clearly for the client’s benefit. The meaning of the crossing needs to be carefully discussed in session.
Crossing a boundary to serve the client is different from violating a boundary to serve the therapist’s needs. If a therapist exploits his or her power over the client to gratify his own sexual, financial or ego needs, it’s a violation of the boundary.
Calling and accepting calls that are primarily social in nature, or using the client’s time to vent about the therapist’s issues isn’t OK. Responding to a client’s requests, even insistence, that they meet informally or socially is a more subtle yet important violation. It confuses the relationship and makes it difficult for the client to trust or to do this or her therapeutic work. Crossing is sometimes advisable. Violating is inexcusable.
Your therapist should be kind, compassionate and understanding. But she should not be using your hour to deal with her own feelings, issues, successes and failures. Stay focused. Your therapy session should only be used to help relieve your symptoms and to help you learn how to manage your life in new ways that are more effective.
Interacting with clients out of the office has traditionally been placed under the broad umbrella of dual relationships. A dual relationship in psychotherapy occurs when the therapist, in addition to his or her therapeutic role, is in another relationship with his or her patient. Since the early nineties, the ethical codes of the American Psychological Association (APA) (1992) and all other major professional associations no longer impose a strict and uniform ban on dual relationships. Instead, the changed codes acknowledge that dual relationships may not always be avoidable or unethical. While the absolute ban has been lifted, the belief in the prohibition is still prevalent (Faulkner & Faulkner, 1997; Gutheil & Gabbard, 1993; Strasburger, et al., 1992). The revised code of ethics calls on therapists to avoid dual relationships only, ” . . . if it appears likely that such a relationship reasonably might impair the psychologist’s objectivity or otherwise interfere with the psychologist’s effectively performing his or her function as a psychologist, or might harm or exploit the other party.” (APA, 1992, p.1601)