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How To Establish Boundaries With Your Clients As a Therapist

Bringing these expectations to our conscious awareness is crucial!

By: Melissa Tijerino

Why Are Boundaries Important?

I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of times from other therapists to make sure boundaries are established from the beginning with ALL clients.

But how exactly do you do that?

First, let’s go over the importance of boundaries and why you should implement them with each client immediately.

Being able to have a clear understanding and communication of your boundaries isn’t only essential for your own protection, but it ensures you are meeting your legal and ethical obligations to your client

Whether or not we’ve thought about it, each of us carries in our heads a specific set of boundaries that dictate how we would like to be treated in the world, with anyone. This includes close friends, family, and specifically for you, your clients!

In this blog post, we go over a few ways to establish boundaries with your clients without coming off hostile or insensitive!

Utilize Your Contracts!

It’s super important that your clients complete their forms prior to their session with you, this step usually takes care of itself!

This initial step in the therapy process will serve as a useful opportunity to outline rules and guidelines from the get-go for appropriate communication and behavior between you and your clients

One of the benefits of providing digital informed consent and agreement documents is you get to make sure you keep record of all forms to reference back to at a later date if you need too

These forms also allow your clients to absorb important information at their own pace, which I’m sure they appreciate more than being rushed in the lobby minutes before their session. It gives them time to read exactly what your boundaries are, with no surprises!

Be Mindful of Your Time

Do you often find yourself responding to client emails or text messages after your set working hours? You might want to pause and reevaluate.

Likewise, establish expectations about punctuality and consequences if your clients repeatedly arrive late to their appointments

Always remind your clients politely about your boundaries you set around your time in the beginning of your therapy relationship, and let them know when it’s acceptable to contact you and when they should expect a response from you

Be Mindful of Self-Disclosure

When implemented appropriately and professionally, counselor self-disclosure can cultivate trust and empathy as well as strengthen the therapeutic relationship between you and your clients

But, when used too inappropriately, it can derail the focus and progress of your clients therapy sessions, and ultimately resulting in them not getting the help they need

Before you start self-disclosing, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and not for personal validation and consider whether the information risks undermining the clients perception of your professionalism and trust me no one wants that, including you!

This could possibly result in bad reviews of your business and less clients that would recommend you to their friends or family

Consider the Implications of Physical Touch

Therapists' views on physical touch can vary, their views can stem from their training and therapeutic approach. Some therapists who are analytically trained are less likely to implement hugging their clients, while others who have had humanistical training are more likely to do so

While physical, nonsexual touch does not violate ethical standards, it’s important to consider your boundaries as well as your clients and the implication of touch. Like you, it’s important your client feels in control

If you’re in doubt, take cues from your client, vibes and body language. For example, if your client is upset, crying, you may feel the need to comfort them with a hug, before you do, ask for their consent.

How to Communicate Boundaries (with Demanding Clients)

Being firm, upfront and stern with your boundaries to your clients at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship will prevent problems later on down the road.

However, even though therapists do all the right things, clients will still continuously push boundaries,

Rather than constantly bringing up your contracts that include the boundaries that are clearly started, you might want to review these few steps first!

  • Always try to praise your clients and give positive reinforcement when your client adheres to your boundaries

  • Try speaking assertively to your clients when letting them know your boundaries have been crossed, and right away! Describing in a polite manner how the boundary was crossed

  • Consider establishing a boundary management plan, and state what would happen moving forward if the boundaries were crossed again’

  • If you have a hard time with confrontation, consider seeking help from a colleague to help you with the boundary conversation with your client

  • OR, if you are unsure if boundaries were crossed, document the incident and consult your association's ethical code

  • Lastly, if all else fails. Consider, referring your client to another therapist or coach

Help is Available!

If setting boundaries is something you’re struggling with, we can help!

At Growing Your Private Practice Virtually, we’re here to help put the necessary Process and Procedures in place for your private practice, this is so so so important!

Without proper process and procedures in place, your Private Practice cannot thrive to its fullest potential and your clients could have a hard time trusting your word if you are constantly changing and adding more rules and procedures to your practice

Let’s get you on the right track today! Book a call with me here

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