“Thank you for giving me good advice, even if I don’t listen to it”

Therapy Boundaries

“Thank you for giving me good advice, even if I don’t listen to it”

Therapy Boundaries

Being a therapist is arguably one of the most rewarding careers you can have.  Seeing clients grow and improve is indeed wonderful.

Being a therapist is also arguably one of the most unrewarding careers you can have.

Clients crash and burn sometimes, despite your best efforts.

Connecting professional and or personal self esteem to client successes is like getting in the roller coaster cart of the client’s life and riding along.

The ups and downs of a client’s progress and life in general.. each client…all day long…every day..tends to lead social workers into burn out.

It is important that therapists identify, and supervisors help their supervisees identify, what they are looking to get out of working with people.

That is to say, helping the supervisee and themselves to stay out of the roller coaster cart with their client.

So how can a therapist both maintain boundaries and care for a client in a professional way?

Some modalities teach that the therapist must remove themselves from the room and offer complete neutrality. That the therapeutic alliance is between the therapist and the client, not between a human being (therapist) and a human being (client).

The truth is the therapist cannot remove themselves from the room. In fact no one can.

Instead, being a therapist is about owning yourself fully, knowing why you as a human are there and what YOU hope to get out of the therapy session.

The following questions can be helpful for therapists to have answered for themselves prior to every session:


  • Why do I feel like attempting to help someone today?
  • What do I like about my client?
  • What do I hope my client may have accomplished since we last met?
  • What are my plans for myself after work?


What is in your mind about your client is written on your face in small or not so small ways.  It is paramount that you like your client and like what you are doing.

Find something, anything, to like about the person in the room- the way they dress, their humor, their intellect, their commitment, anything. After you have figured that out, then explore what you like about your client.

Having a full rich life and knowing what YOU will be doing after you see your client keeps you on track in your life so that you don’t get overwhelmed and sucked into your client’s life!

As for the title quote, this was said to me by a client as he was exiting a session. According to him he had continued some unhealthy behaviors despite having set goals to change those behaviors.

I could have challenged his quote at the door through various different responses rooted in the various different modalities.

I could have gotten injured and thought a better therapist could have been more successful in changing him.

But I remember smiling about his comment with him. It was an honest human expression of gratitude that I chose to simply appreciate on my solid ground.


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J. Anthony Hall, LCSW, CEAP
Tony is the CEO of LiveWise LLC and specializes in employee assistance and CISD services as well and counseling to the public. He has provided services for such companies as Jim Beam, Wyatt Tarrant & Combs, Norton Healthcare, LG&E, Toyotomi, Morgan Foods, Community First Bank & Trust, Lantech, Jewish Hospital, SHPS, Common Wealth Bank, Nolin Electric, Fire King Security, and others.
J. Anthony Hall, LCSW, CEAP

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June 11, 2014


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