She calls at 10pm, he gives you a present, they ask for a hug, she asks for a ride. How do we navigate the gray area that is clinical practice in community or home settings? Mental health professionals have found several benefits to working with clients in their homes or communities, including more consistent access to resources by meeting clients in alternate settings. Perhaps the client can’t get to an office due to transportation limitations or anxiety preventing them from feeling comfortable in your office? Could the family dynamic be better observed in the home to support current treatment goals?
Boundaries continue to be important in conveying professional roles and limitations to clients, including interaction with their therapist outside of scheduled sessions. Boundaries can look different to each individual, including being physical, such as proximity and touch, or emotional, such as how much we disclose about ourselves to clients in our effort to build rapport. Boundaries are necessary to prevent burnout, which can manifest as fatigue, avoidance, and increased irritability and concern of clients taking advantage of us when boundaries are inconsistent.
Can you ask yourself how you would respond to the following questions?
- Do you feel taken advantage of by those you care about?
- Do you tend to meet other’s needs before your own?
- Do you say yes to avoid a confrontation?
- Do you worry about the loss of a relationship if you say no?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may want to look further at your boundaries and their limits in supporting your well-being. Many mental health professionals are inspired to help and serve others, sometimes at the risk of our own health. It would benefit each of us to explore and strengthen our boundaries to allow the most supportive interaction between us as providers and the clients we serve.
So how do we navigate implementing boundaries? Has your agency supported you in providing expectations of your role in writing to your client? Does your disclosure statement clearly identify your limits in communication outside of scheduled sessions? Can your voicemail redirect callers after hours to a crisis service? These are just a few examples of boundaries in the mental health workplace that can provide the consistency we are seeking in implementing healthy boundaries with our clients. Just as when we guide clients in developing boundaries of their own, new expectations take work to implement and remain consistent. Anticipate push-back from those who are used to old patterns, as they may struggle to accept the change. Remain firm with new boundaries to allow adjustment and acknowledge any anxiety or fear that can come with implementing new boundaries. Lastly, consider putting boundaries or expectations in writing to discuss with your client so that they may have a copy for future reference and can consider signing a copy for your records.
Support from Others
Implementing boundaries can be easier with the support of supervisors, consultants, and colleagues. Consider reaching out for support around implementing boundaries with a client, as many professionals have experienced similar concerns and have had to navigate the discomfort of boundary setting in their own work. Would they take the same steps you are considering when reinforcing boundaries? Can they support you when your feelings of guilt or anxiety attempt to derail the boundaries you’ve created? It can be helpful to share your boundary goals so others can support you and you can do the same for them.
Burnout can be the result of poor or unhealthy boundaries. Can you relate to any of the following symptoms of burnout?
- I don’t know how to relax.
- My road rage has gotten worse.
- I feel disconnected from my emotions.
- I escape into eating sweets.
- I’m ignoring my relationships.
- I can’t seem to disconnect from work.
- I’m self-critical.
These are just a few symptoms of burnout that other professionals have reported as signs of their fatigue and ongoing challenge in the workplace. Boundaries can help address burnout along with communication, exploring your values or what drives you, and creating a wellness plan. The Professional Helper Healing Training: Supporting Boundaries to Prevent Burnout is one training in Denver, CO that supports professionals in these tasks and there are others! For more information, visit us at catalystcounselingpllc.com and search professional workshops.