Most of us recognize and respect boundaries in our day to day life. We dont stand too close to other individuals in a line, we dont call a friend in the middle of the night unless theres an emergency and we dont walk in on someone when theyre in the bathroom. These types of social boundaries exist to make us feel comfortable with other people.
In therapy, boundaries exist to protect the therapeutic experience. Some of these are obvious. The boundary violation we hear about the most often is therapists having sexual contact with clients (patients). However, there are other boundaries that, when violated in the therapeutic relationship, are also extremely damaging.
Your therapist should always be asking himself/herself whether something they are doing, saying or allowing serves your interests therapeutically. The answer might vary depending on what type of therapist they are psychoanalytic, humanistic or somewhere in between. Some things are taboo no matter what type of therapy your therapist practices:
Sexual contact of any kind
Asking the client to invest money in a venture or enter into a business partnership of any kind
Borrowing anything from the client money, vacation home
Not respecting the clients session being late, canceling frequently, taking non-essential phone calls
Calling client to talk about his or her own life (this actually happened to someone I know)
Regular social contact such as a book club
The following limits fall into more of a gray area:
Hugging at the beginning or end of a session
Therapist attending an important life event of a clients such as a wedding or graduation
Therapist lends the client a book
Client sees the same individual therapist as family or friends
Sessions are occasionally conducted over the phone when client cannot attend in person
A therapist should always explain why something is not permitted in the therapeutic relationship. In other words, instead of rejecting a hug from a client by stating that its not appropriate, he or she should explain why it would be harmful and ask the client to talk about what it would mean to them.