Professional boundaries

One of the more difficult ethical dilemmas with which you may be confronted relates to boundary violations in working relationships. This occurs when a professional worker or employee forgets that they are in a professional relationship and not a friendship. Once this professional relationship has been lost, there is then potential for the worker to become over-involved with the client and potentially violate the client's rights.

Professional boundaries need to be observed to ensure that professional standards are maintained. Professional boundaries do not mean the avoidance of another person and their problems. Acting professionally assists you to deliver care to someone whom you may not like personally.

The professional relationship sits on a continuum between over-involvement and detachment, as shown below.

over involvemnt and detachment continuum

Figure 7: Over-involvement/detachment continuum

What are some of the behaviours or warning signs that might indicate a community and disability services worker is overstepping the professional boundary?

Signs of boundary violations

Whilst in isolation none of these behaviours may indicate a potential boundary violation is happening, they could be indicators of a potential problem.

Indicators may include the community and disability services worker:

  • developing strong feelings for the client
  • spending more time with this client than others
  • having very personal conversations with the client
  • receiving calls at home from the client
  • receiving gifts
  • doing things for a client rather than enabling the client to do it for themselves
  • believing only they can offer the right services to the client
  • physically touching the client.

Interactive activity - Professional Boundaries

Read the following case study and answer the question that follows.

Ken is a youth worker in a rural area. He meets Michelle at the local drop-in centre where she has come for assistance with a domestic violence situation. Ken has also seen Michelle at the local pub a few times. Ken becomes aware that Michelle is attracted to him; her suggestive comments make it clear that she wants more from the relationship.

Select Ken' s best response:

a. Buy her a drink and see where the conversation leads.
Ken can always tell her at the end of the evening that there's no way he's going to get involved in a relationship with her.
b. Tell her that she is being ridiculous trying to chat up her youth worker and that she should find someone from her own social circle.
c. Gently but firmly state the limits of his role and make it clear that he is a youth worker and that is the basis of their relationship.
d. Finish up his drink quickly and head to the other pub up the road.

Last modified: Wednesday, 9 October 2013, 1:06 PM