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How to set emotional boundaries with clients.

Have you ever needed to set boundaries with your client, say no to their requests, or discuss concerns you have about your client to you regional co-ordinator, but felt you couldn’t do so because your client views you as a friend more than a support worker?

Being a support worker and being a friend are different relationships that come with very different expectations, norms, boundaries, and power dynamics. Problems can easily arise when trying to carry out both roles. For example:

  • your work interactions are restricted by Independence Australia policy, guidelines and OH&S legislation. Friendships don’t usually come with such parameters.
  • you are dependent on your client for your income while your client is dependent on you for their physical care needs. Friendships don’t usually have these power imbalances.
  • friendships involve an equal amount of self-disclosure, and exchange of personal thoughts and emotions. Support work does not.

Here are some great tips on how to establish a good rapport with your clients, while also maintaining emotional boundaries.

Be kind, caring and cooperative, but:

  • avoid spending time with your client outside your paid work hours
  • avoid doing favours that go beyond your work role

When a client discloses personal information it is OK to:

  • listen
  • validate their feelings emotions (“I can understand how that would be upsetting”)
  • empathise with them (“That sounds difficult”)

But avoid taking the conversation to the next step:

  • avoid voicing strong opinions or taking sides (“I totally agree with you. You should do something about that”)
  • avoid sharing your own personal stories and experiences, especially more private ones (“Let me tell you about what happened to me…”)
  • avoid giving advice or becoming involved in fixing or resolving your clients personal problems


Source: Dr Andrew Sinclair, Health Psychologist from Independence Australia

If you have concerns for your client’s well-being, please let them know Independence Australia offers a counselling and psychology service for eligible people with a disability. Click here for more information.