In our work helping our clients and patients, creating boundaries can be hard. We audiologists and speech-language pathologists do this work because we care, and we care deeply. We want to be there for our patients and their families. We want them to know we care, and we want them to feel supported.
Additionally, in our professions, we often see patients every week and sometimes multiple times a week. We develop bonds formed on the foundations of trust and compassion. However, if we aren’t careful, the line between healthy and unhealthy boundaries can blur. We might not even realize we have moved beyond healthy boundaries with clients, patients, students, or families until a limit gets pushed. Sometimes we even burn out because we didn’t set intentional and clear boundaries.
Boundaries provide a strong framework for building great relationships. They allow us to set guidelines on what we will and won’t do with a clear conscience. Through proper boundaries and clear communication about our boundaries, we show care and respect to clients and their families.
How can we create healthy boundaries to help us provide the best care?
First, setting boundaries doesn’t signal you don’t care or that you are selfish … quite the opposite. Boundaries show you value a relationship enough to be thoughtful about making sure it thrives. Also, don’t assume others will be put off by boundaries. Many people will respect you and be glad to know where they stand.
Steps to creating healthy boundaries
Ponder situations or relationships in your life that you feel take advantage of you. Is there a theme to those situations or relationships? For example, does a patient always contact you on the weekends and expect a response? Does a colleague disrespect your time by monopolizing your paperwork time with their drama?
Get clear on your priorities and what you are and are not willing to do. Give yourself some time and space to figure it out. Think of this as creating a policies and procedures manual for yourself.
Don’t take it personally if someone responds poorly to you setting a boundary. You can’t control others’ reactions; you can only control how you communicate your boundaries, so make sure to do so respectfully.
Setting boundaries helps you take care of yourself. Poor boundaries can lead to resentment and burnout. You owe it to yourself, your patients, and your family and friends to be intentional about boundaries so you can excel in your work and enjoy your life.
Behaviors to avoid when setting and maintaining healthy boundaries
Don’t let families think you’re the only person who can help their child. Over the course of my career as an SLP and also as a business owner, I often hear families say they “can’t live without” a particular clinician. I realize this is usually just a figure of speech, but I’ve also encountered situations in which a lack of boundaries led a family to be overly dependent on a clinician. Be mindful of these situations. We work to empower clients, patients, students, and their families to succeed on their own.
Avoid socializing with patients’ families outside of work. You’ll get close to some families over the course of your career, and at times you’ll feel like you are friends with a patient or a patient’s family. Spending time with a patient outside of work can confuse all parties about the nature of the relationship. Also should any accident happen involving you, a patient, and their family outside of work, you or your employer could get held liable. It’s a good idea to check your employer’s policy on this.
Inevitably, the longer you work with a patient and their family, you might become familiar with interpersonal relationships within their family dynamic. Make sure you always remain objective about such relationships and keep the services you provide within your scope of practice.
Ginger Jones MS, CCC-SLP, has more than 15 years of experience in a variety of specialties. She founded and serves as CEO of Jones Therapy Services with nine locations across Tennessee. firstname.lastname@example.org