Maintaining boundaries within small communities and on social media
I am aware that in small communities, e.g minority groups, activism spaces, local or counselling communities that are shared with clients, we may come across each other outside of the therapy room, and this document helps us think about how to navigate that.
With social media being a big part of many of our lives, it is also possible for us to come across each other online.
While this policy considers many situations, it is for myself and individual clients to negotiate relevant boundaries on a case by case basis, guided by the general principles of this document.
- I will avoid dual relationships – that is, where I already have a significant relationship with a person or someone strongly connected to that person (e.g parent, life partner), either personally or professionally, I would not consider it appropriate to be their therapist, and will refer them to another counsellor.
- There may be times when I can cleanly renegotiate an existing, more distant relationship into a therapeutic relationship, but this would be on the condition that therapy was the only ongoing aspect of the relationship for the duration of therapy and for one year after, and that we are able to maintain clear and uncontaminated boundaries for this relationship.
- Where I am counselling people who are connected with each other and they are aware of this (e.g two friends), I ask that they work with me to maintain careful boundaries around the individual work we do. Reflection is needed over issues such as discussing therapy with each other, or discussing each other with me, and how that might impact the therapy for either client. I may not be the right therapist for someone who needs to bring their relationship with one of my existing clients as a significant part of their therapy.
- I would not divulge that I was working with someone connected to a client without explicit permission, and I understand that in an interconnected world, I will have to manage boundaries occasionally where two of my clients have become friends, colleagues or lovers. My process in such cases is to bracket what I know about the other person when I am with a client so that it does not come into that relationship – I endeavour to see that person through my client’s eyes only.
- In order to preserve boundaries while online, if there is any crossover between our friendships or communities I may suggest that a client and I block each other on social media, and in particular Facebook, so we can enjoy our private and social world without our paths crossing. In other cases, it might also make more sense not to block if the client needs to be aware of my potential presence at social events, for example.
- I will try to ensure clients are aware when our paths may cross at social gatherings, training courses, and other events, so we can discuss beforehand how we might both be in the space, or whether one of us might choose to withdraw. My policy if I encounter a client unexpectedly is as follows:
- I will not acknowledge that I know a client but leave it up to them to acknowledge me if they want to.
- I will try to limit interaction for the benefit of both of us, for instance in group discussions I would try to select a different group from my client.
- I would ask that the client not engage me as their therapist, e.g seek support from me, outside of the therapy room, and equally I will not offer therapy or look on them or their interactions with a therapist’s perspective.
- As a rule, I am very unlikely to become friends with a former client due to the difficulty in changing the relationship dynamic away from a therapeutic one. If our lives become intertwined via work or mutual friends we may be able to establish a social connection but only after one year after therapy has passed, and only after an explicit discussion in which we redraw the boundaries. Otherwise, I will maintain a certain amount of appropriate professional distance in our interactions after therapy has ended, should we encounter one another.
- I will never enter into a sexual or romantic relationship with a former client due to the potential power inequalities that exist.
- When I am not explicitly contracted to work as a therapist, I may be involved in work as a volunteer, a supportive friend, a listening ear, but this is explicitly not therapy. I am only a therapist when it is mutually agreed that I and another person will enter into a therapeutic relationship.
- I am active in certain groups and communities. I write, blog, go to events, and am involved in community organising and social responsibility work both on and offline. I have a personal and public life outside of my role as therapist. If a client encounters my other work in person or via my social media profile or my writing, it is for them to consider the impact on themself of encountering this side of my life. It might be helpful to clients to consider avoiding contact with my online presence, talks or workshops while they are working with me, however I appreciate that some of my professional work may be of use and interest to clients and so this is not a hard boundary.
I would encourage clients to contact me as soon as they can should any concerns over boundaries arise before, during or after our work together.