Monday, 27 December 2021

Boundary crossing 2

As career professionals we may be exposed to hearing more information at times from our clients than we are comfortable with. Interestingly, this seems slightly more likely when we are working with young people. 

A boundary gets crossed, and information about issues such as personal safety or mental health are shared with us. Sometimes a 'safe' pair of hands and trust means our clients may unburden themselves to us in ways that are outside our areas of expertise. Sometimes disclosed issues may fall well outside our professional practice capacity. The CDANZ Code of Ethics provides clear advice to us  in these circumstances - that we must "only undertake those practices for which [we] are qualified and in circumstances where [we] have appropriate experience" (2016). 

What to do in this type of situation can be incredibly complex, but the career session clock stops ticking at the moment these other issues appear. Not only will immediate safety issues will limit anyone's ability to think constructively about their future work, but our expertise runs out, and we need to refer our client to an appropriate professional. 

I personally like to think of this as 'hosting' the client: I can find someone who has the expertise to help my client, and I can consider how can I meaningfully and sensitively host the client into an introduction so that their underlying needs are met as well (at least as I can have them met). For myself in private practice, this means relying on my expert networks. In an educational institution, or in a large organisation, there are usually structures already in place. 

So how do we prevent boundaries from being crossed? One easy way to prevent boundary crossing is to begin any session by briefly discussing what we are getting together to talk about. We set an - informal - agenda. This scoping of our work helps us to stay within our expertise, and to focus on the mahi we have met to undertake. And if we have talked about the scope of service we will deliver before we start a session, there is less risk of us facing situations which we are unprepared for. 

I have been lucky in my career that I have not - knowingly - had clients with suicidal thoughts. I have seen clients who were mentally ill, though. Luckily none of those clients were immediately in danger, so I was able to take more time and direct them kindly to expert and appropriate services. 

Or perhaps it is less luck, and more planning.


Sam

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