Over time, a relationship with your therapist can feel incredibly close, as many of the details you share are personal, intimate aspects of your life. If you are not intentional about keeping boundaries in a therapist-client relationship, it is easy to blur the lines and feel like your meetings are similar to just hanging out with friends. However, it’s important to keep this from happening for your and your therapist’s well-being.
Therapist-client relationship boundaries
For therapists, it’s crucial to set both ethical boundaries and professional boundaries with their clients because of the nature of their work. As they are regularly entrusted with personal, vulnerable and detailed information about their client’s mental health and overall well-being, the need for clear, distinct lines is great — they not only protect the therapist, they protect the client.
Additionally, as the client, it is your responsibility to respect these boundaries and to set some of your own. Setting boundaries with a counselor may sound counterintuitive, but you might realize that, when speaking with your counselor, there are details you don’t want to share quite yet or stories you’re not ready to dive into.
For a smooth relationship between therapist and client, it’s always best to remember that you’re speaking with a professional and that the relationship should remain a professional one.
What boundaries need to be set?
For both the client and the therapist, certain boundaries should be set and maintained on both ends.
As a therapist, it is their job to not talk too much about themselves or to share with you small anecdotes from their life that might aid in the therapy session. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear that another person relates or has had similar experiences and that you’re not alone in feeling the way you do.
However, it’s not appropriate for a therapist to disclose lots of personal information or talk for the majority of the session. After all, you’re the one paying for the time; if you feel like too much is being disclosed, it’s okay to let your therapist know, especially if you feel that the information is not part of the therapy and is unhelpful to you.
While you might want to express your gratitude by giving your therapist a gift, most ethical codes of conduct insist that therapists refrain from exchanging or receiving gifts. It can lead to a conflict of interest and may make either yourself or your therapist uncomfortable, especially if your therapist chooses to decline.
Instead of a gift, consider words of sincere gratitude, and thank your therapist for their time. Genuine thanks can go much further than a physical gift in this situation.
Nonsexual touch is not unethical in therapy so long as it has a therapeutic purpose and the client is comfortable with it; there should be an underlying reason for the touch, and can often play a strong role in grounding or comforting a client. If there is a therapeutic aspect or reason for the physical touch, it is not considered unethical and can have an appropriate place in therapy.
Sexual, violent or touching a client or therapist against their will is never acceptable and should not be tolerated.
With so many facets of counseling going digital (like teletherapy, for instance) it has become more important for both clients and therapists to set boundaries regarding when it is appropriate to contact and where teletherapy sessions should occur.
Therapists are not on-call doctors, and technology should not be used to treat them as such. If your therapist sets boundaries regarding when it is acceptable to text or call, they need to be honored and only contacted when they are available.
Additionally, when conducting therapy sessions via video calls, make sure that the background is neutral. Letting the camera show the inside of your home — whether you are the client or the therapist — can make the other feel as though they are infringing on your privacy.
While it is true that therapy involves having conversations about difficult and personal topics, you, as the client, always have the right to not discuss certain topics or share stories if you feel uncomfortable or simply not ready. You should never feel pressured to share more than you are comfortable disclosing and have the right to tell your therapist that you’re not ready to talk about that yet.
To learn more about the professional and ethical boundaries of counseling, or to begin your own counseling journey with a therapist, contact The Light Program. Our admissions process will answer all your questions and get you connected with a therapist you feel comfortable with today. Contact us online or by calling 610-644-6464.