Why Can’t I Be Friends With My Therapist?

The Importance of Boundaries

There are many reasons why therapists and other healthcare providers have boundaries, but the most important reason is to protect you.  Read on to learn more about the importance of boundaries and what happens when a therapist or healthcare provider has poor boundaries.

Boundaries Mean It’s Always All About You…

The professional relationship between you and a therapist or other healthcare provider should be all about you, your concerns, your issues.  If the therapist or healthcare provider talks about their life at the expense of you talking about yours, there is a problem.  It becomes challenging because you don’t know when to talk about your stuff or even worse you become the helper for the person who is supposed to be helping you.  Periodic self-disclosure can help illustrate a point or issue and is different from bad boundaries.

At this point it’s worth mentioning how important it is to choose regulated health professionals governed by a regulatory body, such as the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario or the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Abuse and/or inappropriate behaviours are less likely to happen with regulated professionals, not impossible, but less likely.

The Power Differential Between Client and Therapist…

If the provider shares personal experiences that are inappropriate and cause you to feel uncomfortable, then there is an issue.  It may be difficult to tell your therapist or healthcare provider that you are uncomfortable.  This is because of the power differential between you and the other person.  A power differential can be related to education, knowledge or skill.  Imagine trying to tell your doctor, naturopath or massage therapist that they have done something that has made you feel uncomfortable.  Most people would decide not to go back to that person, unless of course there is no other option.  Then what do you do?  That’s why professionals have boundaries – so you can feel comfortable.

Inappropriate Touching…

If the therapist or provider touches you without permission, then there is a problem.  Under no circumstance is it ever OK for someone to touch you in any way without your permission.  You might be thinking of very obvious sexual touching, but I’m talking about behaviours that are far less obvious and perhaps insidious.  For example, if a provider hugs you without your consent or kisses you on the cheek without your consent, then there is a problem.  A therapist or another healthcare provider shouldn’t be hugging or kissing you at all.  Imagine going to see your doctor for a sore throat and being hugged after your appointment?  If it doesn’t feel right then it isn’t, and that means poor boundaries.

The Problem with Social Media…

Social Media seems innocent enough, but it can get confusing.  Many professionals have business pages that provide information, but what about their personal pages?  As a client, searching for or seeing your therapist or healthcare provider’s personal posts is not appropriate. The line between a professional and personal connection can become blurry.  You may become confused about whether this person is your therapist or friend.  Texting your provider for appointment arrangements is fine if they allow that, but anything else is a no-no.  Texting your professional about your issues or worse their issues is far beyond any appropriate boundary.  If it feels awkward, uncomfortable or inappropriate it probably is and that is not good for you.

Boundaries Are There To Protect You…

You may think you can handle the lack of boundaries, but it can get very messy very fast. Boundaries are there to protect you.  If boundaries are violated then you will be hurt by someone whose job it is to help you.  It is not your responsibility to set appropriate boundaries, it is the professional’s job. Boundaries need to be clear and consistent.  Read that again.  It is the professional’s job to set boundaries that are clear and consistent.

What You Can Do When Boundaries Are Not Respected…

  • Say something. Respond to the behaviour immediately by saying, “I’m not comfortable with this” or “please don’t do that”
  • If you don’t feel you can say something at that moment, send an email to the individual later expressing your concerns and what you expect to happen
  • Report the incident to the office manager
  • Report the individual to the College or regulatory body
  • Report the incident to the police

If you have been hurt by someone whose job it was to help you, please connect with me.  Schedule an appointment for counselling and psychotherapy.  Please know that when working with me it is my job to make sure you are safe by setting and respecting clear and consistent boundaries.

Listening. Guiding. Caring.