Having boundaries is about having an appreciation for the protected nature of the counselling encounter. It is about self-respect and respect for the client. In many ways, boundaries provide a framework in which difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be expressed and processed safely.
Two important boundaries required within a counselling relationship include:
the setting of time limits.
working within a structured framework of beginning, middle, and end.
Working within a time boundary is so important because it creates a time and space where the client can be provided with your undivided attention. If there were no time boundaries, there is the risk of issues discussed in therapy spilling over into the counsellor’s world and interfering with work conducted with other clients. No one can provide their undivided attention at all times, but they can set aside a time when their undivided attention can be provided. Thus, a time boundary benefits both the counsellor and the client by ensuring that the time provided is of the utmost quality and completely the clients.
Having a beginning, middle, and end framework for each session and, indeed, the long-term therapeutic relationship is an effective way of sticking to boundaries. This framework can be most useful for closing the session. By giving the client an indication that time is coming to an end, it provides them with the opportunity to include any pressing issues before the session closes. It also provides time for the counsellor to summarise the session, thus showing the client that their voice has been heard. If the summary is in any way wrong, the client can clarify, again ensuring that they leave feeling understood.
I think it is important to highlight that boundaries, like everything else in person-centred counselling, are not just set in place by the counsellor. Instead, they are discussed and agreed between counsellor and client. The boundaries are jointly owned and thus sticking to those boundaries is being respectful of one another. This mutual setting of boundaries is an important aspect of creating a balanced relationship free of any hierarchical structure and the limitations such a structure can impose on the relationship.
Mearns and Thorne (2007) point out that:
“For the counsellor to impose boundaries without a consultative process with the client would be a denial of the essential equality of the relationship which it is hoped to establish . . .”
Regular supervision is important in helping counsellor’s manager their boundaries to ensure that they continue to work in an ethical manner. In many ways, it is the counsellor’s ethical responsibility to maintain boundaries and thus also to discuss any boundary issues within supervision.