The formation of boundaries in Counselling, or a helping interaction, is very important. Helping interactions provide people with an opportunity to help deal with their difficulties, whatever they may be. It is a chance to be listened to and understood. As such, the helping relationship is an intimate one. It is built around trust and support and offers the helpee (client), a place free from judgment. Within a helping interaction where both the helpee and helper (counsellor) are committed to the healing process, the helpee will often divulge information of a very personal nature. Owing to this, the helper must establish boundaries to maintain a secure working alliance and ensure that the helpee’s needs are met. Without appropriate boundaries problems such as favouritism, exploitation and ineffective counselling may arise.
Boundaries in Counselling define the “therapeutic frame.” They distinguish helping interactions, from social, familial, sexual, business and many other types of relationships. According to Wosket (1999), they refer to the expectations of how counsellors/helpers should conduct themselves. Professional bodies, training, and literature on good practice shape a counsellor’s/helper’s code of conduct by explicitly or implicitly setting out required and disallowed forms of involvement. Some boundaries are drawn around the therapeutic relationships and include concerns with time and place of sessions, fees and confidentiality or privacy. Boundaries of another sort are drawn between helpers and helpees rather than around them and include helpers’ self-disclosure, physical contact (i.e., touch), giving and receiving gifts, contact outside of the normal therapy session and proximity of helper and helpee during sessions. Boundaries should be discussed and agreed upon with a helpee from the onset of therapy.
During skills practice, as a trainee counsellor (helpee), I work within a structured framework that is defined by the boundaries I establish. At the beginning of every session, I establish a contract with my helpee, in which I set out the boundaries of the session. I begin by introducing myself and stating my limits as a trainee counsellor. I then state that I abide by code of ethics set out by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), which, dictates my conduct as a helpee. Following this, I set the boundary regarding confidentiality by assuring the helpee that all information will be kept confidential except in instances where self harm or harm to another is mentioned. I make clear to the helpee that I am bound to report such information. On the issue of confidentiality, I further state that while I take my helpees’ stories to my supervision I do not take their names. Before beginning the session, I also set the boundary regarding the duration of the session. I make the contract user centred by checking whether the helpee agrees to and understands the boundaries set out in the contract. I believe that engaging the helpee in the contracting process is important as it gives a sense of security to the helpee and brings professionalism to the sessions.
Establishing boundaries within a helping interaction can take time and effort, but ultimately I feel that is a significant factor in bringing about therapeutic change in a client. This is because by setting boundaries, particularly concerning confidentiality, the helper creates a space in which the helpee truly feels safe. This allows a helpee to discuss events or problems that he might not have, had the helper not stated that the information would be kept confidential. For example, during skills practice, initially, those taking on...