Boundaries in Counselling

When there are no clear boundaries, our relationships, responsibilities and psychologies can become confused. As a consequence it can become hard to know what we are supposed to do for other people or what we should expect from them, and from this position all kinds of personal unhappiness can follow.

Therapy and counselling that pays close attention to boundaries does so not out of some pedantic rule-bound approach, but as a way to make it possible for the client to understand how to use and work with boundaries in their own lives.

Why are boundaries in counselling important?

One of the key values of the psychodynamic approach is the attention paid to the importance of boundaries in counselling.  Psychodynamic counsellors will take time in the early stages of the counselling to work out a weekly appointment time that reliably suits the client.  Similarly, it is important to be clear about working out what fee is appropriate and affordable.  These things are more than hygiene and housekeeping, they are making the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship clear, setting the relationship up on lines that both parties can agree on.

Boundary issues and traumatic events

Traumatic events can occur at any point in our lives. they can be hard to process and hard to recover from. As we work to rebalance and come to terms with what’s happened we may find that the injury has affected us in profound ways that leave us more confused about who we are, what we want and what are boundaries are.

If for example you had the kind of start in life that left you feeling insignificant instead of chosen and valuable, then the foundations of your being may be shaky, and most likely your boundaries will be shaky too. Our experiences as children and the attachments that we form in our earliest years, often have a lasting impact on the life we go onto live.

Children or adolescents who go through traumatic events, events that they cannot process at the time, often become emotionally dysregulated. Their emotional systems and centres become highly reactive. In later life when under pressure this emotional dysregulation surfaces. How are we supposed to come to manage this?

It is often the case that people have experienced problems in life in relation to a lack of a sense of a safe boundary around them.  Often people will contact me when there has been a boundary failure in their lives. So they may have experienced being made redundant, or have found out that a partner has betrayed them and had an affair.  They may have experienced a bereavement recently, or a bereavement from long ago may have cast a shadow over their lives.  In all of these cases, we can think that the problem they are trying to come to terms with has fundamentally disrupted their boundaries.

Psychodynamic counselling and boundaries

Psychodynamic counselling works to rebalance and correct the flaws in those foundations. It does this by co-creating with the client a predictable working relationship that can throw light upon the shaky elements and experiences, and in doing so create something that is dependable and can be valued. One of the goals of the work is for the client to be able to internalise a reliable and consistent and being sense of themselves. This then can become a model for other valuable relationships.  Gradually the client can come to value and internalise the boundaries as part of the working relationship, and as they do so we tend to find that they face other areas of their lives in more boundaried ways too.

Psychodynamic counsellors train to be aware of changes that occur in the areas of boundaries in the therapeutic relationship. This means that we are not just trying to grasp issues that have gone wrong in the past or with other people, it means that we are mindful of when the boundaries are challenged or breached in the counselling work.  

So for example, though someone coming late to a session might be an ordinary thing to put down to chance, if it becomes a pattern then a psychodynamic counsellor would want to find out more about it.  The counselling aims to become a safe place in which the problem with the boundary can be explored and thought about and if possible modified and changed so that the client becomes free to change things in other areas of their lives. It is often the case that as the client becomes more at home in the boundaries of their counselling, other areas of their lives start to improve.

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Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding more about our boundaries and the degree to which they work for us.

By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, how to start living more fully again, and how to start to have healthy relationships with yourself and other people.

The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.