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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Monday, February 6, 2023

How Far Is Too Far? Crossing Boundaries in Therapeutic Relationships

Gloria Umali
American Professional Agency
Risk Management Report
January 2023

While there appears to be a clear understanding of what constitutes a boundary violation, defining the boundary remains challenging as the line can be ambiguous with often no right or wrong answer. The APA Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct (2017) (“Ethics Code”) provides guidance on boundary and relationship questions to guide Psychologists toward an ethical course of action. The Ethics Code states that relationships which give rise to the potential for exploitation or harm to the client, or those that impair objectivity in judgment, must be avoided.

Boundary crossing, if allowed to progress, may hurt both the therapist and the client.  The good news is that a consensus exists among professionals in the mental health community that there are boundary crossings which are unquestionably considered helpful and therapeutic to clients. However, with no straightforward formula to delineate between helpful boundaries and harmful or unhealthy boundaries, the resulting ‘grey area’ creates challenges for most psychologists. Examining the general public’s perception and understanding of what an unhealthy boundary crossing looks like may provide additional insight on the right ethical course of action, including the impact of boundary crossing on relationships on a case-by-case basis. 



Attaining and maintaining healthy boundaries is a goal that all psychologists should work toward while providing supportive therapy services to clients. Strong and consistent boundaries build trust and make therapy safe for both the client and the therapist. Building healthy boundaries not only promotes compliance with the Ethics Code, but also lets clients know you have their best interest in mind. In summation, while concerns for a client’s wellbeing can cloud judgement, the use of both the risk considerations above and the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, can assist in clarifying the boundary line and help provide a safe and therapeutic environment for all parties involved. 

A good risk management reminder for psychologists.