Navigating Practitioner BoundariesFeb 06, 2024
In the challenging world of somatic (trauma) therapy, practitioners often find themselves facing complex dynamics that require a healthy balance between client support and self-preservation and care. It is vital to establish and maintain a well-defined, boundaried, and individuated therapeutic space, while also cultivating openness, rapport, trust, and compassion.
This can be a common learning curve for many practitioners.
A common example of this is where a client is looking to be "fixed" and harbours a (usually unconscious) compulsion for the therapist to assume a parental role, playing out old dynamics that are unresolved from childhood.
This codependent dynamic could hinder the client's progress and keep the client stuck in a victim identity. The client feels they are helpless and believes they need an external person to save and fix them. In a healthy therapeutic relationship, the practitioner is working to empower the client, supporting them to work through their problems.
It's a delicate balance and requires that practitioners remain vigilant about the role they are playing. Without the support of professional boundaries, the practitioner can also fall into these unconscious and unhealthy relational dynamics.
Practitioners need to stay aware of and resist any temptation to act as a rescuer or parental figure, as doing so may inadvertently disempower the client and hinder any authentic progress. Clients must be allowed to have their own experiences, with practitioners maintaining empathetic but firm boundaries to avoid enmeshment. Enmeshment (where the practitioner takes on the client's issues as their own) can also lead to practitioners becoming energetically engulfed and drained, triggered, traumatized, and burnt out. Merging with the client's wounds, as a rescuer, stops authentic co-regulation and its potential healing benefits.
Enmeshment also impacts the practitioner's ability to stay regulated and hold a safe container for the client to work within. Without this therapy is ineffective.
A client's problem is not the therapist's problem or responsibility to carry or resolve. While practitioners can offer skills, guidance, and knowledge, it is crucial that for the client to heal, they be supported to navigate their challenges independently.
Resisting the urge to make clients' problems their own might feel counterintuitive, as society often associates caring with rescuing. However true client care, growth, and healing comes from maintaining professional practitioner boundaries and empowering clients to navigate their own journeys.
Depending on the practitioner and their regulatory requirements and rules, examples of professional boundaries to establish upfront may include or cover;
- What the therapeutic approach or process is (or isn't)
- A client disclaimer.
- What support the practitioner does / does not offer.
- Session times, payments & cancellations.
- Expectations around contact between sessions.
- Plan who to contact in case of an emergency, and/ or if things are intense/ unmanageable between sessions.
- Ending therapy.
- Privacy & Confidentiality. Record keeping. Limits of Confidentiality.
- Permission to take notes and how the client's information & notes are kept safe and secure.
Wishing you all strength and resilience in your practitioner and client healing journeys.
Peace & Blessing,
Matt Kay (Co-Creator of Embodied Processing)