My learning journal of 6th March 2012 for counselling training:
In this learning journal, I am going to be discussing the competency of:
Maintaining the boundaries of the helping role throughout the session.
In particular, I am going to reflect on my understanding of the relevance of boundaries in the helping role (e.g. disclosure, relationship, ability).
To me, boundaries in counselling represent a sense of personal identity and self-definition that remains constant over time and regardless of the emotional ups and downs of the client or counselling process.
Boundaries, in many ways, are the relational framework within which the counsellor and client work together. It is these boundaries that make it transparent to the client the limitations of the counsellor and the counselling process, while also distinguishing the self of the client from the self of the counsellor. In this way, boundaries are a safety net, a way of preventing harm to clients because rules and roles are clearly defined and therefore expectations can be met. This is also important for the health and well-being of the counsellor.
Throughout my learning and skills practice, I have become more aware of my responsibility for maintaining these boundaries. Although person-centred counselling comprises an equal expertise between client and counsellor, there is an inevitable power imbalance initially that comes from the client being in a vulnerable position (hence, their need for counselling). When clients seek counselling they might not be aware of the importance of boundaries or they might have had their boundaries violated in some way. Therefore, as the counsellor, I need to introduce boundaries and make sure I am consistent with them.
There are some very clear boundaries within the counselling process, such as not having a relationship with a client that goes beyond a purely therapeutic one. However, through skills practice I have become aware of a number of areas where the need for boundaries may be less clear. Self-disclosure and physical contact are two such areas. Over-identification with a client’s issues is also another one that is probably quite frequently experienced within counselling. In all cases, I feel that self-awareness can help guide the counsellor on maintaining appropriate boundaries. Where boundaries might seem to be less clear, the counsellor can ask themselves:
Is this in the client’s best interest?
Is this part of the client’s agenda or mine?
Whose needs are being met?
In order to maintain appropriate boundaries, the relationship should always focus on the client and there should be a clear understanding of the ethics and values inherent in person-centred counselling.
The most challenging boundary issue that I feel I will possibly need to contend with is over-identification, since I am naturally very empathic with people who have experienced similar thoughts, feelings, or events to myself. However, merely by being aware of this risk, I feel I am equipped to manage this. If it were to happen, I would discuss the issue in supervision and, if necessary and in the best interest of the client, refer them to another counsellor.