Setting Healthy Boundaries as a Therapist

A therapist blocking off time on her calendar.
Megan Sova, LPC, LMFT

Megan Sova, LPC, LMFT

Megan Sova is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

In relationships, boundaries are the limits or spaces between people. A boundary is expressed when one person communicates what they are or are not comfortable experiencing. Setting and maintaining boundaries creates a sense of psychological and physical safety. Healthy boundaries help us practice self-care and demonstrate to others what is and is not acceptable.

As  therapists, it’s important to establish healthy boundaries with our clients to protect their well-being and maintain our own. Boundaries help establish a clear framework for the therapeutic relationship and ensure ethical conduct. Some therapists explain their professional boundaries during the initial client meeting, while others provide a written document outlining their boundaries along with the intake paperwork. Regardless of the method chosen, it is crucial to clearly communicate boundaries at the beginning of therapy.

Here are some tips on how therapists can set healthy boundaries:

Establish clear policies and guidelines

Therapists should establish clear policies and guidelines at the outset of the therapeutic relationship. This includes communicating  their work hours, contact information, cancellation policy, fees, and any other pertinent information. It is strongly recommended to maintain separate  lines of communication for professional purposes to establish boundaries around availability outside of business hours. This helps to set expectations, prevents misunderstandings, and avoids confusion.

Maintain professional distance

Maintaining  professional distance is essential for setting healthy boundaries. Therapists should avoid engaging in personal relationships with their clients beyond  the therapeutic relationship. Sharing excessive personal information about themselves or their lives should be avoided. This establishes a clear distinction between the therapeutic relationship and personal relationships.

Clarify the therapeutic relationship

Therapists should clearly explain the therapeutic relationship to their clients at the beginning of therapy. This includes discussing the limitations of the therapeutic relationship and outlining the client’s role in the process. This clarification helps  prevent confusion or misunderstandings and  establishes a clear framework for the therapeutic relationship, while also supporting the client’s personal autonomy.

Respond to client needs appropriately

Therapists should respond to client needs in a manner appropriate to the therapeutic relationship. They should avoid becoming overly involved in their clients’ lives outside of therapy and focus on providing support and guidance within the therapeutic context. If a therapist is uncertain about the appropriateness of responding to a client’s need,  seeking consultation from supervisors or other mental health clinicians can provide support and guidance.

Monitor and manage countertransference

Therapists should monitor and manage countertransference to ensure that their own feelings or experiences are not projected onto their clients. This helps to maintain an objective perspective on the client’s needs and prevents biases or personal opinions from influencing the therapeutic process. Consulting with other therapists about personal feelings regarding a client or their situation can be beneficial in maintaining this boundary.

Practice self-care

Practicing self-care is essential for maintaining healthy boundaries. Therapists should prioritize their own well-being and attend to their physical, emotional, and mental health needs. This helps  prevent burnout and ensures therapists can provide the best possible care to their clients. Self-care activities can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as eating well and getting enough sleep, as well as engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy and fulfillment. By honoring their own self-care needs, therapists are better positioned to provide effective care to their clients.

Setting healthy boundaries is crucial for maintaining a successful therapeutic practice. By following these guidelines, therapists can provide the best possible care to their clients while protecting their own well-being.

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