It is unusual for a psychologist to collaborate on a blog or a book with a former therapy client. My only fear about writing this blog is that people familiar with “boundary issues” will see that a former client of mine and I collaborated on this project, and will assume I am not aware enough of, or am not taking seriously enough, the issue of therapeutic boundaries.
Without clear, appropriate boundaries defining the therapy relationship, clients are left confused about what to expect and are vulnerable to therapists knowingly or unknowingly taking advantage of them. Clients should be able to count on sessions being on time and lasting a certain length of time, having the focus of the sessions be on their issues, and the therapist always keeping their best interests and well-being as the top priority. Therapy should generally take place in an office. Contact between sessions on the phone should be limited or at least well defined. All of these guidelines provide a clear, predictable framework that creates a sense of safety for the client and a way for therapists to maintain their objectivity to the best of their ability.
I was very rigid about therapeutic boundaries throughout the first decade of my career. It was the experience with Robin, detailed in our book, which helped me understand that while boundaries are crucial, it is equally important to know when those boundaries need to be extended for the sake of the client.
My hope is that reading this story will help both therapists and therapy clients understand and get clearer about boundary issues. This is an important topic that, in my opinion, does not get discussed nearly enough by mental health professionals with each other or with their clients. We are all afraid to make ourselves too vulnerable with each other. We therapists don’t ever want to be judged negatively by our peers and we don’t do nearly enough processing with our clients about the impact of the therapy relationship on them. These are some of the many lessons my experience with Robin taught me.
Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D.