As the helping relationship is a managed activity, it requires boundaries to be set from the outset. Although different therapeutic models may be used in a helping relationship, or even a combined approach, it is still important to define and set boundaries in every situation, as a way to provide parameters within which the helping process can work and be most effective.
A primary boundary, before any others can be set, would establish whether listener and helper are able to interact together. For example the helper may have strong personal values which prevent them from being able to help without judgement, Paedophiles or other sex offenders, and this constraint would need to be laid out at the beginning. It could also be stated that once all boundaries are covered, both listener and speaker may then consider whether they feel they can work together on this basis.
Additional boundaries to govern the confidentiality and tone of the relationship, such as speaker and listener agree not to divulge personal details to other parties, and the listener agrees not to pass judgement on the listener and not to place any boundaries on what the speaker can talk about. Finally, the listener may encourage the speaker to convey any boundaries which they would like to be respected.
The overall aim of the boundary setting is to create an environment for the helping relationship which enables freedom of expression within a safe and trusting environment. In this sense the boundaries need to be set tight enough to the speaker can explore and let go within the confined sense of safety and not be impeded by anxieties such as , “am I speaking too much, should I speak about this “.
Each of the above boundaries can be relevant and useful in many helping relationships such as relationships between colleagues at work, between friends, between teacher and pupil, between family members ( e.g. elderly parent and concerned son or daughter).
Only in a formal counselling setting would additional practical boundaries be required, including considerations like payment terms and time limits, to govern the duration of the sessions, and overall duration of the helping relationship (e.g. we will start with 6 sessions, once per week on Wednesday at 2pm, of 45 minutes each).