Information for professionals – professional boundaries

All professions have a code of practice and policy that defines the boundaries of good practice.

Characteristics of good boundaries include:

  • ability to say NO
  • respect others YES and NO
  • not taking on excessive demands
  • not enmeshed/isolated
  • balance work and leisure
  • develop friendship slowly
  • open up a little at a time
  • communicate needs and wants
  • refrain from judgements and personal remarks about others
  • no manipulation or controlling.

             Source: Clare Groves, 2004 

The concept of professional befriending is not something we should run from.

A great part of what professionals offer families, and families treasure the most, is humanness. There are limits to this friendship which must remain if balance is to be maintained and the professional remains useful to those they wish to support. The risk in leaving the "professional" off the befriending is that the professional loses their perspective and may introduce co-dependency into the relationship which is unhealthy for all involved.

Should a professional become too involved with a relationship they may lose their objectivity, find it difficult to identify the family's needs or sustain their own support efforts.

There are professional standards which govern teachers, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, and other professionals to guide your practice.

As an example, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Standards are below.

Professional boundaries are crossed as evidenced by:

Excessive self disclosure – The nurse discusses personal problems, feelings of sexual attraction or aspects of his or her intimate or personal life with a person in their care.

Secretive behaviour – The nurse keeps secrets with the person receiving care and/or becomes guarded or defensive when someone questions their interaction.

'Super nurse' behaviour – The nurse believes that they are immune from fostering a non-therapeutic relationship and that only they understand and can meet the person's needs.

Singled out treatment or person paying attention to the nurse – The nurse spends inappropriate amounts of time with a particular person in their care, visits the person when off duty or swaps roster allocations to be with the person. This form of treatment may also be reversed, with the person paying special or inappropriate attention to the nurse.

Selective communication – The nurse fails to explain actions and aspects of care to colleagues, reports only some aspects of the behaviour of the person in their care or gives 'double messages'. In the reverse, the person receiving care returns repeatedly to the nurse, reasoning why they cannot approach other nursing staff e.g. they are 'too busy'’.

Flirtations – The nurse communicates in a flirtatious manner, perhaps employing sexual innuendo, off colour jokes or offensive language.

'‘You and me against the world' behaviour – The nurse views the person in their care in a protective manner, tends not to accept the relationship with the person as only a professional relationship or sides with the person's position regardless of that position and its implications.

Examples of maintaining good professional boundaries include:

  • self-awareness and reflective practice
  • not taking on excessive demands from colleagues, managers, and families
  • the ability to say no in the workplace
  • respecting other’s decisions not being enmeshed or isolated in professional situations
  • a healthy balance between work and leisure
  • developing client-professionalfriendships slowly and appropriately
  • communicating your needs and wants with colleagues
  • refraining from making judgments and personal remarks about others
  • ensuring no manipulation or controlling.behaviour in relationships

Source: Clare Groves, 2004

 

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