Difference Between Therapy and Friendship

There is a difference between therapy and friendship. Whether you are a coach, consultant, counselor, or member of the clergy, there is (or should be) a clear line between the therapeutic relationship and that of being a friend.

If you’ve been professionally trained in therapy and are licensed by the State or some other governing agency, more likely than not you are held accountable to uphold a code of ethics which assumes certain boundaries be maintained throughout the therapeutic relationship.

Then there are unregulated forms of therapy, such as peer counseling, life-coaching, religious counseling, and spiritual consultation, among others. For these therapeutic relationships, the lines of boundaries can blur, be crossed, or violated.

Some may say in religious therapeutic relationships that due to the separation of church and state, that no professional boundaries be maintained or enforced, and we see where that has gotten us. All you have to do is to look for the news stories of clerics in compromising positions for not maintaining boundaries to make you think twice.

The ACA code of ethics is an accepted guideline which sets forth a prescribed set of boundaries to protect both the therapist and the client. It helps to maintain a positive therapeutic environment for effective counsel and reduce the risk of compromise.

Of course, the first thought that comes to mind it that of sexual conduct. The agreed standard that intimacy or any sexual conduct in nature not be engaged in at any time during the therapeutic environment, nor for a period of five years following the completion of a therapeutic relationship.

There are other boundaries which help maintain a professional relationship between therapist and client, like not going to the movies, out to lunch, exchanging gifts, attending birthday parties, or other social events.

Yet, as in all things, these boundaries which should be enforced by all people helping other people, whether regulated or not, are amidst a spectrum, left to the interpretation of the therapist or the company they keep.

On one end of the spectrum your therapist might meet with you in an office with no amenities, there is no physical contact between counselor and client, not even a handshake. If you meet your counselor in the aisle in a supermarket, you will find him or her unapproachable. Even if you’re amidst a serious emotional outpouring, when your time is up, the session is over. If you can’t pay, the fee is non-negotiable, and there is no out of office or after-hours support.

On the other end of the spectrum, your counselor may offer you tea, may begin your session with a handshake and conclude with a cursory hug. If you meet this counselor in public, he or she may smile, stop, and engage in conversation with you for a while. You may run over your assigned time limit if reasonable or necessary, and there may be some flexibility in making payments and/or additional connection methods or support outside office hours.

There is no right or wrong way to do this as different modalities and schools of therapeutic thought interpret these boundaries differently. There is no judgment here, but the primary goal is to unequivocally protect and support the client.

Transference is a normal occurrence within the therapeutic relationship and it’s up to you to find the boundaries which work best for you, preserving this sacred, safe space.

If you are sitting in the seat of the coach, consultant, or counselor it is up to you to make clear your boundaries at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship and remind your client periodically when it appears, he or she might be approaching a boundary.

If you are the patient, it is on you to adhere to these boundaries and be certain to tell your counselor if you have boundaries of your own which need to be respected. If you feel like any boundary is unreasonable, talk it through with your counselor.

Talk to your counselor about your feelings and don’t keep them bottled up lest they explode. Negotiate your therapeutic relationship and make it work for both of you, or it may be time for a change.

Setting Boundaries

Are you ready to move your life to the next level?

It’s necessary for you to clearly define your work area. It’s the same thing as having an office at your workplace so that you can have the ability to close the door and concentrate on the important things that need tending to in an effort to maximize your effectiveness.

The same goes for your life. You need to create for yourself a safe area to do the work of planning, preparing, growing and expanding so that you can move to the next level. To accomplish this, you must create healthy boundaries.

setting boundaries

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

Before you can go about setting boundaries to hold the sacred space for you to conduct your personal work, you might consider taking some time to go inside and discover within yourself where your boundaries ought to be located.

You know when someone in your circle of influence says or does something that doesn’t make you feel good. In fact, it may make you feel downright bad. Easy: draw a line in the sand right there. Write it down and keep going, until you have demarcated your personal safe zone.

But wait, there’s more…

Who are the people in your life who drain your personal reserves, toxic people who destroy your sense of wellbeing, who disrespect, hurt or abuse you? See them clearly for who they are, and begin to consider protecting your sacred space from these emotional (and/or physical) intruders.

Setting Boundaries

Find ways to either control the space between you and them or protect your personal space from their negative influence. Inform people what is acceptable and what is not acceptable as you define and protect your sacred space with love and respect.

This was an expensive step for me in my practice as I work with a lot of type A personalities who regularly disrespected me – not in an effort to berate me directly, but as a way to fully express themselves while we conducted deep work – while is it was effective, it didn’t make me feel good in those moments.

I had to establish a boundary and be willing to back it up. The day I drew the line in the sand, I called each person who would have crossed the line in the past, had I established it. I clearly communicated to them about my decision to set this clear boundary and enforce it. Enforcing it would mean severing our professional relationship. I had to come to the point where I valued myself enough, that I would no longer let people disrespect me, no matter how much they were willing to pay me to let them do it.

Some of the clients were offended and severed the relationship at the conclusion of the call. A few stayed but crossed the line and I promptly cut them off, and they departed disgruntled, while others continued to work with me, keeping their emotions in check when directed at me.

This helped me to create an exciting safe place for me to work, filled with love and mutual respect, empowering my clients and I to flourish within the space that we do our best work together.

Setting Boundaries

Once you establish a boundary, you must go about the work of setting boundaries by clearly defining them with the potential offenders, as they should be allowed the courtesy of honoring your boundary out of respect to you.

In terms of the more violent offenders, it may be counterproductive to approach them face to face. You need not face extraordinary drama or abuse when setting boundaries. In this case, it may be in your best interest to just create distance – a safe space – between you and the more difficult people in your life. You will be better off without them.

Enforcing Boundaries

Unfortunately, setting boundaries without enforcing them is folly. Enforcing the boundaries you have set can be the most difficult part of the boundary process. It may include saying goodbye to people you care for, love, admire, respect (or in my case, pay you good money). Nevertheless, if you’re setting boundaries, you must enforce them.

You will discover, as you define and protect your space, you will attract more centered, supportive and loving people to fill the vacancies left by those who moved away from your circle of influence and thrive as you continue to pursue the sacred work of you and achieving your highest and best.