Tennis Ball Boundary
by Phyllis Babrove, LCSW
There are various types of boundaries that we are taught, beginning in childhood. Young children may be kept in playpens or confined areas to ensure their safety. As children begin to explore their surroundings and are less confined to an area, they are taught to avoid strangers and dangerous situations. These are boundaries.
Boundaries, like laws and rules, help keep our lives from being chaotic and even at risk. Because social work is a helping profession, social workers often find it difficult to balance personal and professional boundaries. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) states, in part:
“The ability to set and maintain professional boundaries is critical to an effective, sustainable career in social work. Social workers make judgments regarding boundaries on a daily basis, and these decisions affect not only their own well-being but also that of their clients, colleagues, and loved ones.” (NASW, http://careers.socialworkers.org/documents/Professional%20Boundaries.pdf)
Social work students are taught, from the beginning of the degree program, that having limitations in place with clients is essential to being effective in helping them in a meaningful way. Two terms come to my mind from my years as a student. One is “flexibility,” and the other is “prioritizing.” Social workers have to be flexible because we deal with changes on a daily basis. Very often, there is no such thing as being able to follow a schedule, because a crisis occurs. We also have to prioritize and deal with the most serious issues first.
Our goal, as social workers, is to help people learn how to change and improve their lives. The nature of the field makes it easy to become too involved in the lives of our clients, and at times, boundaries may end up being overstepped. During my career, I witnessed colleagues who put themselves in awkward positions by becoming “friends” with their clients, thus placing the professional relationship at risk. For the sake of our clients and ourselves, boundaries must be maintained.
In our private lives, our own physical and emotional well being needs to be a priority. For this to occur, we have to set boundaries with our loved ones and friends. We can do this by letting them know that we need stress-free times for ourselves. There are articles that suggest that it is therapeutic to exercise, read, engage in a hobby, and get involved in other activities.
Writing this article, as a retired social worker, I have been able to review some of the skills that I learned as a student and practiced during my working years. And do you know what? I still continue to set boundaries for my own emotional and physical well being. It is one of the most valuable skills that I learned in the social work field.
These are links to some articles on boundaries. There are many more available on the Internet.
- Taking Care of Yourself as a Counselor: http://ct.counseling.org/2011/01/taking-care-of-yourself-as-a-counselor/
- 10 Way To Build and Preserve Better Boundaries: http://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/
- The Importance of Agency Culture and Balanced Boundaries: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/the-importance-of-agency-culture-and-balanced-boundaries/
Phyllis M. Babrove, MSW, LCSW, recently completed her first novel and is hoping to have it published. She enjoys spending time with her family and likes to travel to New England with her husband of 45 years.