Setting boundaries during treatment: why it’s important for therapist and patient
Therapists and counsellors provide a safe space where clients can safely explore the challenges that they face in their lives. Boundaries are an important aspect of ensuring the safety of clients and therapists, but what exactly are boundaries? How do boundaries affect your therapy experience? And, perhaps most importantly, how can you work with your therapist to establish healthy boundaries during treatment? You’ll find all of these answers and more below:
Let your therapist know when you’re over capacity.
It can be easy to want to please your therapist, especially in early recovery. Therapists are people too, however, and they can get frustrated with their patients if those patients don’t set appropriate boundaries. By letting your therapists know when you’re feeling over capacity—whether that means emotionally or physically—you won’t put undue pressure on yourself or your treatment. Setting boundaries is an essential part of recovery in every area of life.
Your therapist is there to help you, but that doesn’t mean you should accept everything they say unquestionably. If you aren’t comfortable with something your therapist suggests, let them know—it may be helpful for them to explain their reasoning or adjust accordingly. Letting your therapist know how you feel about boundaries early on can save everyone a lot of heartache later on.
Asking questions and setting boundaries in therapy is healthy; ignoring those feelings is unhealthy. Know when your limits are being crossed so that you can react accordingly if need be. Letting your doctor know when you are overwhelmed, overworked, or unable to handle certain stresses or responsibilities is an important step towards setting boundaries in a therapeutic relationship.
If you aren’t sure where to start in defining these boundaries with your doctor, consider which aspects of therapy cause stress. Maybe scheduling can be stressful due to back-to-back appointments. Perhaps you find difficult issues too emotionally taxing. Perhaps you simply don’t feel comfortable sharing certain pieces of information with your doctor at that time; being allowed to decide how much information is too much is an integral component of boundary setting as well. You should also consider what may be impacting your capacity.
Therapists a trained to focus on your well-being, but they’re not mind readers. If you require support outside your therapy sessions, you’ll have to ask them directly. Before you schedule an appointment with your counsellor, explain that you could use some extra help learning how to set boundaries or asking them if they can offer guidance in setting clearer limits at home. It’s unlikely that your counsellor will be offended by a request like that—they want their patients to get better! And if they are too overbooked or understaffed to help? You might find a better fit elsewhere.
Understand it’s normal to need time alone after sessions.
An addiction treatment session is typically an intense experience. After a therapy session, it’s natural to want to spend time by yourself to process what you discussed with your therapist. The therapeutic relationship is strong enough that both you and your therapist know how much time you require alone before you can discuss your therapy session with others.
It’s crucial that therapists have an understanding of boundaries as well, so they can respect their patients’ need for quiet recovery time after a day in therapy. Many patients who are new to therapy or newly sober find that they require a little time on their own after sessions.
Occasionally, they want to work through what has happened in a session; other times, they just want to process everything that has happened over a week or two. It is also normal to feel overwhelmed by feelings when in recovery, and every so often there are things happening in our lives outside of sessions, too.
In early recovery, we tend to be our best friends – that’s one of those pesky obstacles from sobriety! Setting boundaries with your therapist gives you room to breathe between sessions without feeling guilty about not being able to see him or her as much.
Be clear what you do and don’t want to be discussed
If you’re going to therapy, be clear on what you do and don’t want discussed before entering into a therapeutic relationship. It’s not uncommon to feel nervous about setting boundaries in therapy or other recovery programs. Will people judge you if you don’t want to talk about your childhood?
Will your sponsor, partner, or friends think there’s something wrong with you if you refuse to participate in a group activity that makes you uncomfortable? The simple answer is yes—people will think something is wrong with you. So what? Your job isn’t to please everyone else; it’s to do what feels right for you.
That doesn’t mean that setting boundaries means shutting down and refusing input from others; simply pick who (and when) to listen from more carefully. Clients should be open and clear with their therapists on what they want to talk about in sessions, as well as what they don’t.
This is a matter of setting personal boundaries between you and your therapist; if you’re unclear or unclear on boundaries in therapy, your sessions may be less effective. Clients can be at risk if they aren’t clear about where they stand–for example, My social life is not relevant.
This could mean that some conversations end up leading to subjects you would rather leave unexplored. Boundaries in therapy will allow both parties to approach any subject areas from a more comfortable starting point. These boundaries help everyone focus on current issues rather than avoid dealing with past ones.
Provide information about where you can be reached.
Providing information about where you can be reached is a simple way to set boundaries, but many people in early recovery don’t do it. They fear being judged by others. What boundaries will you set up with your therapist, if any? It’s a good idea to discuss your availability before starting therapy.
If possible, make sure you’re able to receive texts and phone calls at all times (or at least when it makes sense given where you work or sleep). It may seem tempting to just agree to be available whenever your doctor or therapist needs you.
However, some patients find themselves so immersed in their relationships with therapists that they forget about personal priorities—like going out on dates or spending time with friends—and end up giving all of their energy to the therapeutic relationship.
Therapy is meant to help patients heal; limiting outside obligations can help ensure healing remains a priority throughout treatment.
Tell your therapist how much time you are comfortable having between sessions.
Once you are ready to begin your search for a therapist, tell them how often you would like to meet. Some people find that once per week is optimal. Others feel more comfortable with two sessions per week. There are many factors that go into deciding how long you can go between therapy sessions.
Therapists recommend scheduling regular appointments as soon as possible, but know that some people simply can’t afford to see a counsellor very frequently in early recovery. As long as you’re honest with your therapist about what works best for you, you shouldn’t have any problems—your therapist wants to help, not pressure you!
So don’t be afraid to tell them how much time is comfortable for you. If you’re new to therapy, or are considering starting therapy for a mental health concern, you may be anxious about what will happen? Will I have to talk about what my husband thinks of me?
Will I be able to keep my job? Do people see me as weak if I share about my childhood? Can I trust that he won’t tell anyone else what we discuss in our sessions? Numerous questions. Setting boundaries with your therapist is an important part of establishing trust from both sides. When setting boundaries, you have three choices:
a.) Hard limits.
b.) Discussion points.
c.) Flexibility within set limits.
To some degree all of these need to be discussed, but let us focus on hard limits first.
Therapists are in charge of setting boundaries in a therapeutic relationship, but you should also have a say in those boundaries. Your counsellor may ask you to schedule regular appointments, but if you aren’t able to keep that kind of commitment—or if you just don’t feel comfortable having your weekly therapy appointment at such a set time—let them know that.
If something changes, let them know right away, so they can adjust accordingly. Of course, your counsellor will be able to suggest some alternative arrangements; hopefully they’re flexible enough to work with what works best for you as well.