Boundaries

Definition

Boundaries are things you will not do and parts of your story you won’t share with your clients.

Sources of boundaries

Boundaries can be personal and professional.

  • Personal boundaries keep you feeling safe and well in the job.
  • Professional boundaries do the same, plus they help protect the client and your workplace.

Examples

Your client talks about their difficulties finding a partner. They mention their experiences of stigma and discrimination using ‘hookup’ apps. They also mention the loss of body confidence they have experienced since their HIV diagnosis. They also talk about feeling ‘toey’ and how their sexual frustration makes them feel. ‘I feel like I am one of those “involuntary celibate” people, you know?’

The way your client talks about sexual frustration feels a little suggestive, like they might be hoping you can provide a practical solution. You decide to express a boundary: ‘I can talk with you about body confidence and managing stigma, but I’m not the right person to help you deal with sexual frustration. I can help you organise time with a counsellor if you want to talk more about that.’

Knowing boundaries

The traffic light exercise earlier in this module offers a way of identifying your personal boundaries ahead of time.

Your personal experience is an important guide, as well. For instance, you may know that certain topics upset you, or you might have experienced problems from drug and alcohol use. These might be areas where you are more alert for client behaviours that approach or cross your boundaries.

Your workplace training, policy and procedures are another important source of professional boundaries. For example, you might have a client who you get along with, or who feels lonely and experiences social isolation. However, your workplace might have a policy that peer navigators cannot be friends with clients until a period of time after the worker-client relationship has ended. Maintaining a professional boundary would mean finding a balance between offering social and emotional support and being clear this is being offered in a professional capacity.

Expressing boundaries

The key idea is that ‘no is a complete sentence.’ You may choose to explain why you’re expressing a boundary if you want, but you are not required to.

Using your judgment, you could:

  • state that ‘I don’t want to go there’ or ‘I am not going to do that’ or ‘we don’t do that in this role’ or anything along those lines;
  • describe the workplace policy that applies in the situation
  • acknowledge the need and offer another solution (‘but what I can do is…’)
  • change the subject;
  • end the phone or video call;
  • physically leave;
  • activate a duress alarm for assistance.

Exercise

Please check your workbook for an exercise.

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