With the recent report of two therapists being abused by another counsellor in a counselling relationship, I can imagine it has made people wonder if they are safe with their present therapist. It could also make potential clients wonder how to ensure that their therapist will not take advantage of them. It was clear in this case that the boundaries in counselling were broken. The topic does open the debate of whether the professional organisations, such as British Association of Counselling (BACP), should be regulated to ensure all clients are protected in counselling. At the moment regulation appears to be not on the immediate agenda. It is therefore important for us therapists and counsellors to ensure that our clients are fully aware of what to expect from us.
Maintaining a client’s autonomy
For a therapist to be respected and fully protect their client they need to ensure their client’s autonomy is always maintained. All therapists who are members of BACP are bound by the code of conduct. One of the main ways of ensuring boundaries are kept and client’s autonomy is kept is for the therapist to clearly communicate their boundaries. Clients need to know what to expect from their therapist and what the counsellor expects from them.
So what are these boundaries?
- The client must not have had any previous relationship with their client to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.
- Be clear when and where the counselling will take place.
- Ensure that the client is aware of how long each session will be and that these times are adhered too.
- Therapist must be professional at all times and not form any other relationship outside of the counselling room. For example, they must not go round to a client’s house or meet them for coffee.
- Therapists must accept responsibility to promote well being of the client in ensuring that they benefit from the counselling.
- The counsellor must be non-judgemental at all times in providing a service that is equal and fair to all clients regardless of their colour, sex, religion, sexuality etc.
- Counsellor must inform clients of the limitations of client confidentiality such as having to break confidence if the therapist thinks the client is at risk to themselves.
- Counsellor must let the client know how they work and ensure it is the client’s decision to see the therapist.
- If the therapist is in private practice they need to ensure the payment and cancellation policies are clear.
- Finally the client needs to know what to do if they feel any of the above boundaries have been broken. For example, if my clients are unhappy they know that they can contact me first and if the issue is not resolved then they can forward their complaint to the BACP.
The above boundaries need to be discussed and agreed upon with the client before any counselling starts. Some therapists will verbally make a contract with their client but I prefer to have them written down with both the client and I signing it. This ensures a balanced counselling relationship where the client is respected and free from harm.
You can find my counselling contract with my clients here.