Questions regarding boundaries have come up frequently lately with my therapy clients, so let’s see if I can help make sense of this. One client stated, “I feel weird that I don’t know much about you.” Another, “I’d like to be your friend.” Earlier in the month, “My girlfriends therapist talks about herself a lot. I feel like that’s wrong.” Yet another asked, “Can’t you tell me more about how you got here?”
I offer at least 4 assets that are unique, and align new wave psychology in how I work:
(1) Unpretentious dialogue, which includes the occasional f’ bomb
(2) I’m typically wearing gym clothes— mind/body/spirit takes prioritizing and time
(3) I share a moderate amount of relevant personal details when it really feels helpful
(4) Use of humor. I don’t believe that I need to be serious in order to be taken seriously
Still, boundaries and a level of professionalism is incredibly important to me and let me tell you why they should be important to you too.
Let’s start by addressing a common misconception regarding what a boundary is. Many people think setting a boundary is telling someone what to do or not to do. Wrong. For example, I can say to someone, “please do not text me after 8P,” and they could still call. A boundary is actually relevant to what one will or will not do, what is in your control. It is a boundary when I say, “if you call me after 8P, I won’t pick up and won’t answer your voicemail until the next day.” Again, within my control.
In a therapist/client relationships, extremely clear boundaries allow for so much, including:
– Your clinician setting boundaries in a therapy session can serve as a useful model of how you might go about setting boundaries in your natural world.
– Your therapist should avoid a dual relationship at all costs. Dual relationships occur when more than one role exist (ie: friend and therapist). For example, if we fall into too much of a friendly dialogue, you might be hesitant to disclose due to fear of judgement, or pressure to people please. While the most common, hot topic, dual relationship is a sexual one, your therapist should discuss some of the more common ones: going to your place of employment, frequenting the same nail salon, etc. Here, therapists have different levels of comfort, and so do clients, so you’ll note that we have discussions like this early on.
– Therapists should not treat patients outside of their competency. Any treatment orientation I use with you, I’ve spent time training in. Questioning your therapists about their level of competency in a certain type of therapy is totally appropriate, and I encourage it. I am not the right fit for everybody!
– The big one- self disclosure. Listen, I, like everyone else, like to talk about myself. But this is YOUR session. Just like traditional physicians, as a social worker, I’m guided by the principle of Do no harm. It’s totally normal to be curious and want to know more, but our purpose is to focus on your process. Otherwise, you’ll likely end up burdened by details of my life, in too much of a reciprocal relationship. When I share with you, it is always with intention and purpose.
The list above is not absolute. If you’ve ever had a therapist with really crappy boundaries, I’m sorry. Lacking boundaries in a therapeutic relationship sometimes creates a dynamic in which people are turned off from getting the help they deserve forever. Please know that I think so highly of the courageous individuals I work with. I appreciate the opportunity to model boundary setting in our relationship so that you can go out and bring your best self to the rest of the world.