As health professionals in positions of power, we have certain standards of practice we need to adhere to it in order to protect the public. The Standards of Practice of the College of Alberta Psychologists are “the minimum standards of professional behaviour and ethical conduct expected of all regulated members”. These include informed consent, avoiding dual relationships, and acting within our scope, to name a few. These are incredibly important to know and adhere to, and yet it’s not enough to ensure that we’re working in a way that’s ethical and sustainable.
The Importance of Self Awareness and Knowing Our Limits as Therapists
A lot of our work involves being in touch with our own very individual and unique boundaries. For example, what’s the right number of clients per day? I know plenty of folks who understand that four people per day is their maximum, while others regularly see seven or eight. And what’s the right amount of money to charge? Some of my colleagues go with the standard rate as suggested by the Psychologists Association of Alberta, while others leave room for a sliding scale. What about cancellation fees? Some people charge the full rate for a cancellation no matter what the reason, while others make the decision based on the individual situation and the reason for the cancellation.
What times will you see clients? What issues and populations will you work with? What kind of advocacy work are you willing to do? All these are important questions related to our boundaries, and none of them have a one-size fits all answer.
So just how to we go beyond the minimum standard, and develop professional boundaries that are truly a fit for us? I’d love to share my unique definition of boundaries to give us a place to start: “Boundaries are the external expression of our internal limits”.
So that means if we’re consistently feeling burnt out and exhausted after seeing six clients a day, we may need to adjust how much we take on in a day or the types of issues we’re working on. If we’re feeling resentful about a client who has cancelled last minute, we may need to adjust our cancellation policy, or have a conversation with the client. If we’re not as present with our clients as we’d like to be, we may need to take a break, get more sleep, refocus our energy, or consult with our colleagues.
If there’s something we’re not sure how to handle with respect to boundaries, getting ideas from our peers or supervisors is a great first step. We can learn a lot from the mistakes and successes of those who’ve come before us. But it doesn’t end there. We also need to take the time to get a felt sense of what’s right for us.
When we make decisions related to our practice or the type of work we do with clients, we need to consider what our body is already telling us about this decision. When we listen to ourselves and make decisions that are in line with our boundaries, there tends to be a “yes” feeling that goes with our decisions. It might feel like relief, calm, or “rightness“. When we’re going against what actually feels right to us we can feel unsettled, unsure, or “not quite right“. Resentment, exhaustion, and burnout are sure signs that we’re ignoring our boundaries, but there can be subtler cues that we’re crossing a line. If we listen to these internal signs, we can create a practice that honours our limits and is sustainable over time.
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.