What are boundaries?
Boundaries are imaginary lines or walls we put up which protect us from things which hurt us, make us feel sad or poor, tell others how to treat us, what is acceptable to us and what isn’t and keep us safe physically, mentally, and emotionally.
What is the difference between personal and professional boundaries?
Personal boundaries are those lines we use to protect ourselves while professional boundaries are limits which protect the space between our professional power and the Clients vulnerability.
Why are professional boundaries important?
Being Support Workers, we are naturally more caring and want to help people, especially vulnerable people. Boundaries protect us from feeling pressured into doing things we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing. Boundaries increase a Support Workers wellbeing by reducing the risk of burnout and they create realistic expectations for your co-workers.
Boundaries also protect the Client because we have been trusted to provide a therapeutic relationship with our Clients which is built on our professional knowledge and skills. Clients can expect that you will act in their best interest and respect their dignity.
Behaviours considered to be either breaches of boundaries or potential for a breach/blurring of boundaries:
- A non-professional pre-existing relationship
- Intimate relationships
- Excessive self-disclosure
- Over involvement in care or becoming “attached” to a Client
- Secretive behaviour
- Preferential treatment or a Client paying extra attention to you over other support workers
- Selective communication
- Sexual misconduct or assault
- Poor documentation
- Social medica contact
- Personal address/ phone contact
- Visiting outside of scheduled services
- Considering or allowing the Client to consider that you are friends
What to do if the boundary lines have already blurred?
It is best to communicate your concerns with your Client. Let them know that you think you may have inadvertently created a blurring of professional boundaries and remind them that you are there as a professional and not as a friend.
If you feel you have crossed the line between professional and personal, speak with your supervisor about it and get their advice.
If you have already provided your Client with your phone number or accepted a friend request on social media, you CAN stop answering texts or calls outside of a service from them, block them on social media, or even speak with the Client and let them know you have recently completed training on Professional boundaries and as such no longer feel it is appropriate for them to have your number or for you to be Facebook friends.
Reasons that may prevent you from setting boundaries in the first place
You don’t know how – If you grew up in a Family that didn’t have boundaries, you probably just don’t know how to set boundaries.
Low self-esteem – Putting other people and their feelings before your own
People-pleasing – you don’t want to disappoint people; cause problems and you will pretty much avoid conflict at all costs
How to have professional boundaries
- Be clear in your mind about your professional role
- Be sure your care meets the Clients direct needs and best interest and use the care plan as a guide
- Make sure your care is objective and could not be seen as favouritism
- Regularly reflect on the care you provide and speak up if you feel there has been a boundary blur
- Politely advise a Client you are not aloud to provide your phone number, address, meet outside of work or accept social media requests
- Professional boundaries are extremely important for yourself AND your Client
- It is important to set your professional boundaries from the very beginning of a therapeutic relationship but if you find the lines are blurring, it is not too late to regain your boundary line
- Speak up if you feel that the lines between you and your Client are blurring
- It is ok to say no