A Note About Boundaries

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 therapeutic “boundary issues” will see that a former client of mine and I are working on a blog together and will write me off before even reading it, assuming 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 rigid about therapeutic boundaries throughout the first decade of my career.  It was the experience with Robin which helped me understand that while therapeutic boundaries are crucial, it is equally important to know when those boundaries need to be extended for the sake of the client.  There is so much to be said about boundary issues with Robin and I that will be detailed in the posts to follow.

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.

So how did Robin and I get to the place where it feels okay for us to be writing a blog and a book together about our experiences in therapy?  Sharing Robin’s experiences surrounding her “meltdown” impacted me in ways that changed me dramatically, permanently and positively.  I have tried to verbalize how this experience impacted me to my friends and family without much success.  I can only explain it by writing about it.  The story is so significant I have always felt it needed to be shared.  I began to think about writing a book during the first few years following Robin’s “meltdown year” and even began trying to write it.  It became impossible, however, to tell the story in enough detail without violating Robin’s confidentiality, so I abandoned the idea.

Knowing how smart Robin was I had been encouraging her to journal as part of her treatment process for many years without success.  She always resisted writing.  So, imagine my shock when several years after I had started and then abandoned the idea of writing a book about our experiences together in 2003, Robin came into a session and said, “I was reading a book by someone with bipolar disorder.  I think my experiences are just as interesting as hers.  I am thinking about writing a book about my life.”

I don’t know if Robin saying that, out of the blue, was a sign from The Universe or not.  But I could not resist telling her I had also considered writing a book about how she had impacted me.  I don’t remember when it happened or even which one of us first mentioned that it would be a unique idea to write a book together.  We talked about how potentially helpful to others that book might be, but we were still working together in therapy at the time.  It was a great idea…but the timing was not right.

In 2010 I got to a place where I needed to end my time as a therapist for many reasons unrelated to Robin, coincidentally at about the same time that she was recovered enough to stop therapy.  Since then she has continued the process of rebuilding her life and accepting herself and her illness.  She is now in a good place and is feeling just as compelled to tell her story as I am to tell how she impacted me.  It is finally, after many years, the right time.

Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D.                               February 9, 2014

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26 Responses to A Note About Boundaries

  1. Hi there!

    Thanks for the support on the Bipolar Bum.

    All the best,
    H&J

  2. Thanks…I like your writing. Robin and I appreciate you visiting our blog!

  3. Thanks. We will. The story is just beginning….

  4. Thank you for following. I was wondering why you did?

  5. suchled says:

    I’m not a clinical anything. I am an ex-secondary teacher and have dealt with kids who sometimes needed to become patients (clients) of clinicians like you. I have always been in a bit of two minds about the way clinicians seem to clam up about everything. I have memories of sending a student to see the Psych counselor and never getting any feedback even although that student would continue in my class. I think your blog with you and Robin talking openly if like a light being switched onto a cabal.
    Thankyou for your ‘likes’ on my blog. I would love a comment as well – I’ve only been blogging since Feb this year and do love a bit of feedback now and then , but mostly now.

  6. Happy to read anything about human beings trying to do their best in a stressful world. We are all in this together….

  7. Thank you for following Wagblog. I have started reading your blog and find it very interesting…I am surprised you would want to follow mine. Given that my points of view seem so contrary to your approach. However, I am of course thrilled that you have an open mind. Again, many thanks. And I’ll be back!

    • Your points of view on your blog seem to have evolved a lot over time, I am sure in response to your own experiences. I’m very sorry about the mistreatment you described on your blog. There is so much about our mental healthcare system that is horrifying to me. I’m following your blog because I’m always open to hearing about people’s experiences with mental illness and about engaging in dialogue about it. I am not an expert in anything…just a psychologist trying to help people in the best way I know how. I’m always interested in learning more about the best way to help.

  8. Marty says:

    We need more out of the box

    My opinion we have epidemic PTSD, maybe 22 million diagnosed and healing this many seems impossible on therapists couches

    We need someone to look at the big picture

    How can we give mental health to the masses

    I know but have no letters or degrees behind my poultry name

    You are brave to undertake this path. Good for you

    Sometimes we need not have tracks in fresh snow to proceed

    • Marty…so good to hear from you. I agree completely about the PTSD epidemic. We all need to work to decrease the stigma and educate others. Degrees are not necessary. Thanks for your support of our project!

      • Marty says:

        Stigma is more of the military, I believe.

        Redeployment is where we exponentially grow PTSD in our current theaters.

        Neuroscience details how we can change the mind in less than eight weeks of mindfulness based stress reduction, Jon Kabatt Zinns program.

        We can heal from PTSD at a much quicker rate, a much much quicker rate

        I have witnessed it along my long journey

  9. Yep…I agree there are many ways to heal from PTSD that people (often even treatment providers) are not aware of. I am so glad you are sharing your journey. You are helping people.

  10. Charli Mills says:

    Thank you (and Robyn) for having the guts and gumption to speak out on mental illness and suffering. I think so many people were shocked when Robin Williams committed suicide despite publicized accounts of his various struggles. The issue is that those in deep pain can be good at hiding symptoms. Shame can be a barrier. Unless we can discuss painful episodes openly, we can’t heal. I’m a believer in the power of voice. I’m also a writer. I believe that we can write into our truth and experience profound healing. I think this is why many people are drawn to writing. We are exploring self, experience and meaning in life. I’m really blown away that you and Robyn would be so bold to come out and. I hope this will help many.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words. Robin is the brave one. The fact that she is willing to tell her story so publicly is one example of how far she has come in the healing process. As for me, it has been completely clear within my gut for years that this book needs to be written. I have no idea what will happen as a result, but my hope is that it helps others feel more able to be open about their own experiences with mental illness, and the treatment of it, so we can decrease the stigma and the accompanying shame. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting!

      • Charli Mills says:

        It does take courage and I’ll definitely be following your story. I think part of the stigma, too is that entire groups can hide mental illness–families, friends and even cultures. That’s where the stigmas often come. So for individuals to step forward–both those suffering and those supporting–it can break the learned patterns of hiding. But it takes bravery to do so!

      • Charli–I really appreciate your comment and your support of our project! Sharon

  11. choff777 says:

    Thank you for visiting my blog, I look forward to reading your work. Good stuff.

  12. Rayne says:

    For some reason, reading this was a very emotional experience for me. I’m not exactly sure what I’m feeling, just that I want to cry but unable to. I’d love to read this book once it’s completed. 🙂

    • The reason Robin and I both felt compelled to tell her story was because we thought it could help others to read it. I’m glad you want to read more! Here’s a preview that I’ve not told anyone…I’m thinking about posting some excerpts from the rest of the book now that it’s almost finished. Stay tuned!

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