Therapists Spill: How I Set & Sustain Boundaries
Boundaries are essential for healthy relationships. For therapists, boundaries aren’t just vital for their relationships with family, friends and colleagues; they’re also critical for their relationships with clients.
Therapists must set boundaries both outside the office and inside their sessions. Doing so helps clients “have the most meaningful and healthy therapy experience,” said clinical psychologist Deborah Serani, PsyD.
Boundaries keep the session focused on the client and their needs, she said.
For instance, Serani rarely discloses personal information in session – unless it’s helpful for the treatment. “…I might help a client feel less alone by sharing ‘I know what it’s like to go through chemotherapy with a loved one.’ Or ‘I had the same situation happen with that store in town. It’s not just you they were being rude to.’”
Serani also sets physical boundaries. She arranges chairs so there’s plenty of personal space for both her and her client. She keeps the space clutter-free. And she doesn’t hug clients.
“[I]f someone feels the need to hug me hello or goodbye or needs to shake my hand every session, I generally ask what these physical exchanges mean for them. In therapy, expressing words is always better than acting out actions.”
Serani only returns emergency phone calls, and doesn’t respond to “messages about incidental things or questions in between sessions.” The intent is to empower clients to problem solve on their own, she said.
When psychologist John Duffy, Ph.D, started his practice, he was overly available to his clients. He initially believed that this was the only way to truly help. But it just backfired.