Setting up professional boundaries in healthcare that include not becoming too “friendly” or too forgiving with canceled sessions, etc, with clients is very important in our professions. I have seen this happen and it is not pretty. When it happens I believe therapists become too invested in not only the therapy outcome but their overall life as well. This sets us up for even more compassion fatigue.
I have heard this phenomenon explained that we only have so much brain space. I believe this is a big cause of burnout. We are very caring people as therapists, why else would we have gone into these helping professions? But we can not let one client or family is take up more of that space than their share if you divide your time by all your clients.
Social Media and Professional Boundaries
It is harder and harder to maintain this professional distance and keep your distance now with social media. What will you do when a patient or family friends you on Facebook? Do you have a set policy and response? Does your place of employment allow you to accept friend requests after they are no longer your client? But should you?
Phone and Text Messages
If you are a home health therapist you know you need to call and text clients. To make appointments, changes, and the big one, for them to have easy access to cancel. The worst is driving all the way out to a home and they are not there!
But if you have not yet, stop what you are doing and get a Google Voice number. It is free and it gives you a degree of separation of your professional life and personal life. You can set it up on your phone to ring and I love the feature that announces who it is for you, so you can send it to voicemail on the weekends.
Other Important Ways to Maintain Professional Boundaries
There are also important ways to maintain other boundaries, such as:
Respect your time. How do you handle cancellations and late arrivals? In inpatient settings, how do you handle requests from other professionals that are not billable?
Stand up for yourself
Do not feel guilty about the boundaries you set!
Managers and Co-workers
As I was researching this article I was writing about making sure you have professional distance from patients, clients, and families. I came across this information stating that professional distance with work managers and coworkers may be prudent as well.
This is very hard as I know that we spend so much time at work and this becomes our social circle in many instances. This list of 7 totally normal ways to set boundaries with your work friends is a good reminder of the importance. Looking back on my career I do think it is important to maintain this distance with some of the other professionals you work closely with.
For the occupational therapists I mentor, I remind them that selecting a mentor outside of their employment circle gives them that distance when asking questions and having support.
Check out 7 Strategies to Combat Therapist Burnout