By Julia Barnard
Counselling provides people with an opportunity to help deal with their difficulties, whatever they may be. It is a chance to be listened to and understood. The relationship between counsellor and client is a special one. It is built around trust and support and offers clients a place free from judgement. As such, it is important that there are a number of boundaries and support mechanisms in place to ensure the needs of the client are met. These boundaries should be apparent whether you receive counselling face to face, online or over the telephone.
The relationship must always remain professional. This is the case even if you have counselling for years and years. Clients and counsellors are not friends. This distinct difference allows your counsellor to retain a level of objectivity that a friend will struggle with when you go to them with your problems. Your friend may have a stake in the outcome of your problems that a counsellor will not have. For example, despite being supportive, your friend hopes you will split up with your boyfriend as they never liked him. You can get on really well with your counsellor but the relationship should always remain formal. If you suddenly start meeting outside sessions with your counsellor for coffee for example, this boundary is lost and the relationship is compromised.
Another boundary to be aware of is that counselling is not about telling you what to do. Counsellors will work towards self awareness and help promote change. Clients are regarded as experts in their own life and capable of making decisions. Counselling can help clarify these decisions and broaden perspectives. Again, this is how a counsellor can be more effective than a friend as it is so easy for a friend to give advice that may or may not be helpful to your particular experience. Ever known someone who responds to your problems by saying "I know what you mean, that happened to me", then launch into a totally unrelated story about themselves?
A client should always feel safe in a counselling relationship. There should not be any untoward touching, or interaction that the client feels is inappropriate. Related to the idea of safety, you will find counsellors like to begin and end sessions on time, therefore providing a space set aside just for clients, where the boundaries are clear.
Finally, sometimes a client may be referred to another support agency. This may happen if the counsellor acknowledges that the client can get better help elsewhere or if boundaries are broken. Counsellors do not have all the answers and they should never imply that they do.
Copyright Julia Barnard 2008
Julia Barnard is a professional counsellor living in Adelaide, Australia. She provides an online counselling service through her website http://www.makethechange.com.au. Julia also writes articles for the website aimed at enhancing wellbeing and promoting good mental health.
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