Six Tips for Setting Your Personal and Professional Boundaries

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How to Maintain Professional Boundaries in Social Work

Four Parts:

Maintaining professional boundaries in social work is essential to helping your clients and upholding the standards of your profession. Social work is a profession built on interpersonal interaction. Social work assumes that helping people who struggle with poverty, trauma, oppression, mental illness, or other disadvantages is necessary for a functioning society.Because social work often involves sustained interaction with individual clients, it is imperative that you establish professional boundaries with your clients.


Establishing Rules of Contact

  1. Tell your clients what numbers to call in a crisis situation.It is important to provide all of your clients with a list of numbers to call in an emergency. Otherwise, your clients may try to contact you and only you. Make sure that you provide your clients with numbers for your office, an after-hours answering service, 24 hour call centers, emergency services, and local community organizations.
  2. Refrain from giving out your personal contact information.Telling clients to contact you at all hours and giving out your personal cell phone number, e-mail, or home address, may lead to an unprofessional dynamic. It may also cause your client to lose trust if for some reason you do not answer your phone or you cannot help.
    • Always provide a professional work email, phone number, and office location for your clients to use to contact you.
  3. Protect your privacy on social media.Your client might be tempted to "friend" you on Facebook or another form of social media. But interacting with your client in this context could breach professional boundaries.
    • Make sure your Facebook settings and other on-line profiles are set to private or limited to people you have approved to follow you. If your client can access information about you publicly on-line, this could lead to a conflict of interests.
    • Similarly, do not seek out information about your clients on-line that is private or irrelevant to your work with that client.
  4. Maintain confidentiality.It is imperative that you do not disclose the details of your client's struggles outside of a professional context. Do not discuss your client with your friends or family members at social gatherings.
    • If you disclose confidential information relating to your client, he or she must sign a valid consent form which gives you permission to do this.
    • If you are discussing confidential information with fellow colleagues or a supervisor, then make sure this is done in private. Do not discuss it in hallways, stairways or other public places where it can be overheard.

Part 1 Quiz

If you want to discuss confidential information with a colleague or supervisor, you need to:

Demonstrating Professional Interpersonal Behavior

  1. Establish clear physical boundaries.One of the most effective ways to establish clear professional boundaries is to let your behavior set the standard for your meetings with your client. It is important that you do not touch your client in any inappropriate way.
    • Inappropriate forms of touching might include hugging, caressing, or holding your client's hand. While you might think these gestures show compassion or care, it is possible they could make your client feel uncomfortable and as if he or she is in an exploitative dynamic.
    • Ask yourself if there is even the smallest possibility your client could be psychologically harmed by your touching. If yes, then avoid making physical contact with your client.
    • In some cases, hugging a client may be appropriate. For example, if a client asks for a hug during your last session together, then that would be appropriate.If you work with children or the elderly, then hugging and hand holding may be appropriate sometimes as well.
  2. Dress appropriately.Your style of dress will also signal professional boundaries to your client. Slacks, blazers, blouses, and knee length skirts and dresses are generally appropriate forms of dress.
    • Avoid wearing any form of low-cut or revealing clothing. This could make your client feel deeply uncomfortable and establish an exploitative dynamic between you and your client.
  3. Use appropriate language.Avoid using profanity, even if your client often speaks this way. You should also avoid using derogatory language, like insults or slurs, even if your client uses this type of language. Make sure your language is always appropriate so your client knows that you are trustworthy and professional.
  4. Refrain from discussing your personal life.You might feel the urge to discuss your personal problems or difficulties in order to relate to your clients. But your clients benefit more from your professional expertise than your personal life experiences.
    • When you discuss intimate, personal details of your life with your clients, it could confuse your clients about to the nature of your relationship and this could be distressing for your client.

Part 2 Quiz

Why should you refrain from discussing your personal life with your clients?

Avoiding Dual Relationships

  1. Watch for conflicts of interest.Dual relationships are relationships in which you interact with your client in a setting separate from your professional work.
    • If you are a social worker in a small community, there is a chance you might meet your client in other contexts, such as church, school or in another social setting. Try to limit contact with your client in these situations. The more time you spend with your client outside of a professional context, the greater the opportunity for a breach of professional boundaries.
    • For example, if you attend the same church as your client, avoid joining the same volunteer committee or attending the same Bible study class as your client.
    • If you run into a client while in the gym or at the grocery store, then try to minimize the encounter. Be polite and professional but do not linger in a social capacity.You should not ignore your client, but do not start a social interaction unless your client approaches you. Do not approach your client.
    • Similarly, do not agree to do favors for your clients outside of a professional setting. Don't agree to give rides to your client or to babysit for your client. This can easily compromise professional boundaries.
  2. Prohibit sexual relationships with your clients or former clients.Sexual or intimate relationships with your current clients are unethical and inappropriate. You cannot have sex with a former or current client and you cannot accept a client with whom you have had an intimate relationship. You may lose your job or be prosecuted for doing so.Former clients could also be harmed by a sexual relationship due to your privileged knowledge of their case work.
    • Never enter into a sexual relationship with any of your clients' relatives or close friends either. These relationships could also potentially exploit your clients and their treatment.
    • If you find yourself developing romantic feelings toward your client, excuse yourself from the case and refer the person to another social worker.
  3. Decline to enter into financial relationships with your clients.You must never give your client money or accept money or gifts from your client. Do not engage in relationships where your client gives you additional money or gifts for things unrelated to social work.
    • Do not borrow money from or lend funds to current or former clients. These are actions that can easily confuse your client and put your client in an exploitative position in relation to you.

Part 3 Quiz

True or False: You can accept a gift from a client as long as it is less than .

Nurturing Your Non-Professional Life

  1. Cultivate friendships outside of work.One of the best ways to maintain professional boundaries is to have a clear line between your professional life and your social life.
    • Keep in touch with old friends from high school, college or your field work rounds. If you are new to a city, try joining volunteer groups, church groups or intramural sporting teams for basketball, running, baseball, etc.
  2. Participate in activities you love.If you enjoy reading, watching movies, taking photos, acting in community theater plays, singing in a local choir, then make these activities a robust part of your social life.
    • Try to find a hobby that gives you regularly, weekly activities. Having something regularly scheduled outside of work will help you maintain professional boundaries while also reducing stress in your daily life.
  3. Leave work in the office.Establish clear boundaries for yourself away from the office. Do not check your work e-mail, voicemail or take professional calls when you are at home or on vacation.
    • You can still be an excellent social worker without being available to your clients 24/7.
  4. Consider finding a therapist.Social work can take a huge toll on your mental and physical health, so it is important for you to find someone to talk to about your emotions. Talking to a therapist can help you to feel more balanced and it can also prevent you from being distracted from your own problems during your time with your clients.

Part 4 Quiz

Why shouldn't you check your work email or voicemail when you are at home or on vacation?

Community Q&A

  • Question
    How can I support my staff and teach them about professional boundaries?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Be direct and specific when counseling the staff (i.e., "It is inappropriate to have a client in your office for 2 hours chatting.") Set the example. Don't discuss your personal life with clients, maintain professional distance, keep discussions at work about work, etc.
  • Question
    How do I maintain professional boundaries with my colleagues after receiving a promotion?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    By acting in accordance with the role you have been promoted to, as needed. Just follow the tips in the article. They apply regardless of what position you are in with respect to others.
  • Question
    Within the boundaries of your role, can you give examples of what you are not allowed to do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
  • Question
    What are the legal obligations relating to professional boundaries?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    There are no laws specifically on professional boundaries. But companies have their own rules and codes of conduct that you need to follow if you want to remain employed and out of trouble. And obviously, any general laws (e.g., regarding violence, sexual assault, etc.) always apply, whether you are in a workplace or anywhere else.
  • Question
    Can I visit my client outside of work hours?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You can, but this is not recommended as it sets the expectation that you are available to the client outside of your normal working hours. This expectation can cause inconvenience later on, as the client may think you are "on call" and available whenever he needs you to be.
  • Question
    What should happen in a client's best interests if a professional is overstepping boundaries?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Unless there is a way to rebuild the professional boundaries, it would be best for all involved to break the working relationship. If professional boundaries break down, professional support/care is not possible. It could harm both the SU and the worker.
  • Question
    If a client wants to give me a gift, what do I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Tell the client politely that due to the company or professional procedures, that you are not allowed to take any gift from him or her. No matter how kind a gesture, it is just so much easier to never open this can of worms. In some cases, it can lead to dependence or unhelpful feelings from vulnerable persons and misunderstandings, all things you don't want happening.
  • Question
    How can you professionally receive gifts from clients?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    By creating a company gift policy that gift givers can sign. Effectively any received gift will be divided where possible between everyone in a department/company or a recipient will be decided by a simple casting of lots. This way it is fair and professional.
  • Question
    If I was going to attend college, and one of my clients is in the same class, would this be a boundary?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You could find yourself in trouble. If for some reason you are paired to do any work together, your relationship is now that of a peer instead of an authority figure dealing with a client. As well as your extra knowledge of them as a client could be construed as taking advantage of said client if things devolved in class and there was conflict between you two. However, if it is on a completely different area of knowledge, things will probably be okay. Just keep it professional and discuss the matter both with the college and the client.
Unanswered Questions
  • One of my clients wants to leave me something in her will. What should I say?
  • If a cient asked me out what are the issues that could arise from this?
  • How do you develop rules and boundaries when working with friends?
  • Is it a violation for a home health personal care assistant paid by a service provider contracted by the state of Oklahoma to be on a client's checking account?
  • Why do I need professional boundaries in social work?
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Date: 15.12.2018, 05:47 / Views: 93555