Skilled, experienced therapists can make a world of difference for individuals in drug and alcohol treatment and rehab, but an effective therapist-client relationship requires counselors to establish clear boundaries that maintain trust and professionalism.
Healthy client-counselor interactions governed by ethical boundaries are in the best interest of both, and should be established by the counselor at the onset of treatment with each new client. Clinicians generally take this responsibility very seriously. Those who fail to establish and maintain boundaries are at risk of discipline, dismissal, and in extreme cases, termination of licenses.
Not Always Black and White
Closely guarded boundaries can reduce opportunities for unintentional exploitation of a client’s trust. While it’s normal for clients to develop feelings for a counselor who has helped them through some very difficult times, including the sharing of personal, private experiences and painful emotions, some boundaries aren’t black and white.
For example, a friendly hug may seem like an innocent gesture (and it usually is), but a hug can be wrought with meaning for the client, making it an innocent but risky form of boundary crossing. This can create a dilemma for a therapist who knows that some clients would benefit greatly from a quick embrace.
Keeping Personal Lives Separate
Although it’s difficult at times, it’s important for clinicians to be friendly, but not to develop personal friendships with clients. Most counselors are admonished not to accept gifts, engage in any type of personal contact, or impose their religious and moral beliefs and values on their clients.
Many are careful not to talk about themselves and their lives away from drug and alcohol treatment and rehab, and some avoid placing pictures or personal items in their offices, which serves to delineate a stronger boundary between the client and a clinician’s private life.