The Importance of Boundaries in Addiction Treatment

January 7, 2012

Boundaries in addiction treatment are an essential part of the client counselor relationship. In fact, they protect both the client and the counselor and they remain intact even during the inevitable ups and downs of addiction counseling. Boundaries are important because they:

  • Reduce the chance of the exploitation (intentional or unintentional) of a client
  • Create a definitive role for both the client and the counselor
  • Create a framework of rules under which counseling can continue
  • Offer a role-model for the client

Boundaries are set at the very beginning of treatment and it is the counselor’s responsibility to make sure they are adhered to. Boundaries need to work in the best interests of the client and can be negotiated – sometimes based on cultural and/or personal preferences or differences.

While it may seem unfair that the counselor is ultimately responsible for maintaining boundaries, it is clear why this is. A) The counselor is the professional, B) the client may not understand the need and importance of having boundaries and C) there is a power imbalance between counselor and client. In other words the counselor is often perceived as being dominant party.

Blurred and broken boundaries can come with significant ramifications that include disciplinary action in an ethical and legal sense. The counselor can incur significant punishment for crossing the line. However not all boundaries are black and white nor defined very easily. Often, counselors have to make a split second decision on what to say or do. Some examples of blurred boundaries include:

  • Self-disclosure
  • Offering or accepting gifts
  • Dual relationships
  • Becoming friends
  • Physical contact

Ultimately, it is part of a counselor’s job to fully understand the depth of their relationship with a client. This is what we do and our jobs depend on our ability to make the best decisions for ourselves and our clients in mind.

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