How did you learn about confronting clients and setting boundaries? What I found most helpful as a counselor-in-training was having a dialogue to review and practice with my classmates (or unwilling family members).
Although this article provides one dialogue option to set boundaries with clients, having a number of responses to pull from will hopefully make you more comfortable during these potentially difficult conversations.
1. Identify the boundary being crossed
Did the client cross a physical boundary? A sexual boundary? Depending on the type and severity of crossing, you might need to assess for safety before moving forward. Be sure to read “Types of Boundaries in Home-Based Therapy”.
2. Address the crossing at the exact moment
Try not to wait until later in the session or at a later date or session to address the boundary crossing. The earlier you bring up your concerns, the more likely you are to address it effectively.
3. Use a calm, measured tone
It may not be your home, but you are in control of your actions and you can set the tone for the session. Your voice has the power to change a potentially escalating situation so practice channeling Mr. Rogers or an NPR reporter.
4. Identify how respecting the boundary can benefit the client
Again, this depends on the situation, but we know as mental health professionals that people often see the world within the context of themselves. Try explaining how respecting this boundary can benefit the client i.e. “I’m asking that you wear a face mask because your safety is my number one priority” or “I’m going to ask that we turn off the TV for our meetings because I want us to focus on you and your needs during this time”.
5. Do not offer further explanation or apology
Why would you apologize for a boundary when you’ve just explained how it can benefit the client? You have just modeled an appropriate method to set a boundary. Apologizing or over-explaining after can send the message that the client should do the same when setting their own boundaries.
6. Thank client for respecting boundary
Reinforce wanted behaviors! When the client turns off the TV, thank them for turning attention back to you and ultimately themselves. Acknowledge that it can be difficult to focus in our busy world or that it can be difficult to discuss uncomfortable or painful feelings that come up in therapy.
What are other steps you might take to set a boundary? Answer below in the comments and don’t forget to check out other articles in the blog’s series on boundaries such as Types of Boundaries in Home-Based Therapy or 4 Options for Call Return Policies.