The therapeutic alliance is the bond between a client and therapist. It is said to be a large determining factor in whether therapy is going to be helpful to a person. The therapeutic alliance’s positive correlation to success in therapy means that developing a good therapeutic alliance and healthy boundaries with your therapist are critical.
Respecting Ethical Boundaries
Counselors are bound by a code of ethics established by the American Counseling Association. As a result, your counselor cannot engage in any sexual or romantic relationships with you. This may seem obvious, but unfortunately in my work I’ve encountered clients who were very flirtatious or even asked me on dates! Understand that your counselor’s role is to help you work through your issues, not to be your next romantic partner. Similarly, your counselor is not allowed to be your friend outside of therapy. Your counselor cannot “hang out” with you outside of work and should not be discussing his or her life with you, except in the case of therapeutic self-disclosure.
Many counseling agencies have policies regarding social media that prohibit their counselors from being online friends with or followers of their clients. Throughout my career as a counselor, I have received numerous friend requests on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn from my clients and have denied them all. Even if the company I work for did not have a social media policy in place, I personally do not think it would be appropriate or therapeutic to be friends with my clients on these platforms. Doing so would blur the line between counselor and friend, which is an ethical violation.
Respecting Personal Space
Remember, counselors are first and foremost people, and therefore are entitled to their personal space too. Different counselors have different boundaries when it comes to physical touch. During particularly emotional sessions or after a big breakthrough, you may feel inclined to hug your counselor. However, this may not be something he or she is comfortable with, and it’s important to respect that.
In communicating and maintaining clear healthy boundaries, your counselor is modeling how to have a healthy relationship. If you ever find yourself feeling hurt or uncared for because your counselor wouldn’t accept your Facebook friend request or give you a hug, engage in a full conversation with your therapist about your feeling towards the boundaries he or she is setting. Feeling hurt or uncared for can damage your therapeutic relationship and jeopardize your chances of success in therapy. Therefore, it’s imperative that you discuss your feelings with your therapist. Your therapist will be able to help you understand the reasoning behind their boundaries, and how you can still feel cared about despite not having them as a Facebook friend or getting that hug.