Boundaries & Core Skills

alcohol counsellor Boundaries & Core Skills
alcohol counsellor Boundaries & Core Skills

Boundaries & Core Skills – Boundaries – Agreeing boundaries and objectives in the context of a helping relationship between listener and speaker requires the listener to clearly state to the speaker the practicalities of the arrangement. For example the listener needs to make clear the likely number and frequency of sessions expected to be attended. The listener needs to explain contractual matters for example conditions and limitations of confidentiality, the theoretical counselling model the listener practices and their ways of working. Setting out the objectives at the outset will manage the speaker’s expectations of what to expect and help them decide if this is the right helping relationship for them.

Boundaries & Core Skills

More detailed goal setting and objectives will come from the early sessions when the listener has a clearer understanding of the speakers problems and expectations of the relationship. Once the listener is aware of the speakers needs they will be better able to agree further objectives with them. We shall now consider the boundaries for helping relationships in counselling and other helping relationships in more detail below (Sutton and Stewart, et al 2011).

The areas to be attended to in setting out the boundaries:

When setting boundaries the listener needs to be clear about the length of the sessions prior to starting the helping relationship. The sessions for a helping relationship are usually for 50 minutes. This is an important contractual issue to highlight to the speaker as the speaker may think of something significant to say at the end of the session and expect the session to continue. By setting the boundaries around timekeeping at the outset and pointing out that others will be following the session this will save embarrassment at a later date. It is also important that the listener advises the speaker on their expectations on attendance.

In helping relationship 

In helping relationships outside of professional counseling this is also relevant as setting time constraints at the beginning manages expectations.  For example as a Reiki practitioner I have to advise my client how long the session will last and how it will end. Another example of setting boundaries around time is in conversations with friends who ring for a chat while you are keen to listen an help them with their problem it is advisable to make it clear at the outset that your time is limited to manage their expectations of what time you can give to them in the helping relationship.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Fees

The listener must make clear the contractual agreement regarding fees and late arrival. A firm agreement must be reached in order to avoid speakers arriving late for the sessions and clearly understand their objectives around timekeeping and for them to understand that sessions cannot be extended if the speaker arrives late and that fees remain the same. This also applies to non- attendance and late cancellations.  If it is the listener who is unable to attend, they must inform the speaker that in this instance an alternative date will be offered. In the case where no date can be agreed no fee will be charged.  The above does not just apply to counselling sessions but other helping relationships for example Reiki or massage.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Confidentiality

It is important that the speaker feels that they are able to speak freely and the listener assures them that this relationship is confidential and the discussions within it. However it is equally important that the listener advises the speaker on areas of disclosure. The listener needs to make the speaker aware that it is a safe environment for them to speak openly and explore their feelings provided they are communicating thoughts, feelings and actions within the ethical boundaries as set out by the listener or the accredited body. In other helping relationships outside the professional counselling environment confidentiality still applies. For example if a friend is going through a difficult time and needs to talk they need to feel what they are saying will go no further and it is a good idea to make it clear that you as the helping listener will keep their confidence.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Disclosure

The listener must make the speaker aware of the confidentiality boundaries as mentioned above.  The listener would have to identify areas they considered reportable. For example the listener would where there is a risk of self harm, harm to others, child abuse, rape, murder or acts of terrorism etc have to be reported to the appropriate authorities (Sutton and Stewart, 2011).  Disclosure in helping relationships outside of the professional counselling environment is I feel more difficult to address. I am currently aware of a situation whereby someone close to me has been raped but is unable to report for fear of a worse crime if they spoke with the authorities. So I feel in my capacity as listener in this helping relationship I am unable to disclose. Hence the professional guidelines of the ethical framework may be black and white, but real life is not so black and white.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Self Disclosure

The listener should make it clear of the contractual obligations regarding self-development and supervision. The listener must keep their own self-awareness in check to ensure they do not shift the focus from speaker to listener.  It may be the case that in some helping relationships the listener could use their own experiences to highlight a point or show greater understanding but only when this benefits the speaker and not the listener (Sutton and Stewart, 2011). I feel this is very much a the discretion of the individual in more personal relationships. I would self disclose if I felt it would benefit the speaker in a helping relationship and provided I was comfortable that they would keep my confidence.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Record keeping

Sutton and Stewart (2011) suggest in the case of note keeping and records the listener would inform the speaker that any notes would be kept securely and stored for a maximum of seven years as set out by The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). They also assert that access to records is in line with the Data Protection Act (1998) and it is a necessary component to make this clear to the speaker when setting boundaries. Data Protection Act applies to all record keeping and In the work place for example it is important that in areas such as Human Resources records about people are kept secure. This is a clear objective in any organisation where records are held.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Self Development

Boundaries & Core Skills. The listener should also make the speaker aware that they undergo supervision. The listener must make the speaker aware that in the situation where they were discussing the speaker’s case it would be done so keeping the speakers anonymity (Sutton and Stewart, 2011).

Boundaries & Core Skills – Physical Contact 

In a counselling environment the listener must make it clear to the speaker where the boundaries lay in terms of physical contact between speaker and listener. For example the listener must make it clear that hugging is inappropriate between listener and speaker.  It may also be the case that outside of the sessions the relationship is off limits, but this may vary depending on the agreement between listener and speaker (class discussions, 6th November 2011). In other helping relationships outside of the counselling environment physical contact is perhaps more difficult to address at the outset. For example listening to a someone in crisis who is in need of a hug would make things very uncomfortable if you pushed them away even if you would rather not hug them.  In other areas physical contact is a sign of comfortableness. For example many people have commented on how comfortable my grandson is with me and how much he is cuddled and this has been an important part of my relationship with him and helping him feel secure when he stays with us.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Accreditation

On the assumption the listener is BACP Accredited, Sutton and Stewart (2011) point out that should a dispute arise between speaker and listener and the speaker is dissatisfied they should take this up with the BACP and not with the listener. However it would be more in keeping with the heaping relationship if the speaker aired their concerns with the listener   first to see if there has been a misunderstanding and if this can be addressed without further action.

Identify the core counselling skills that may be used in a helping relationship and describe how they may be used.

The core skills that may be used in a helping relationship are: beginning the sessions, empathy and active listening, reflecting, paraphrasing, silence, summarizing, mirroring, reading body language and appropriate questioning and ending the helping relationship.

Beginning the relationship

Beginning a relationship is a core skill in both a counselling environment, in personal helping relationships and other professional relationships in the work place for example.

This core skill of beginning a helping relationship is  used to bring the speaker to a place where they feel able to talk openly about their problems. The listener will use open questioning to encourage the speaker to open up so they can discern what the speakers problems is and how best to go forwards with them. The listener can use appropriate questioning techniques that avoid YES/NO answers. Using open questions in beginning the relationship and throughout the helping relationship will encourage the speaker to go deeper into their thoughts and feelings and reveal them the listener and become more aware of their own feelings and how to resolve their problems.

Milne et al (2011)

Milne et al (2011) suggest using what, when, where and how questions are more open and avoid yes//no answers. For example starting with ‘so what is it you want to talk about for this session’ and allowing them time to answer is a useful approach and likely to encourage the speaker to open up. Whereas using why can lead to the speaker feeling they are being put on the spot to give an immediate answer. For example in my experience as a manager and dealing with staff who require help in understanding how to communicate with others better, I find by showing them  how to ask the question differently helps them meet their objectives.


Empathy is a skill that may be used to communicate back to the speaker words and gestures of understanding in a non-judgmental, but accepting manner. They are not sympathizing but empathizing. Empathy is an expression of unconditional positive regard by the listener to the speaker. The listener is entering into the speakers frame of reference to be congruent with them and encourage them to open up to the thoughts and feelings and explore them further in a non-judgmental setting (Milne, et al). This is a skill used in a counselling relationship but also in everyday helping relationships for example when a friends cat died recently they were very distressed and upset. I could not relate to this as I am not a lover of cats, but could step into their situation for a while and empathize in terms of how this impacted them.


Reflecting is a skill that may be used to communicate to the speaker that the listener is listening attentively.  Milne, et al suggests that the use of reflecting key words back at the speaker allows them to re-hear their words and what they have said and get a sense of themselves. This encourages further scrutiny from the speaker and enables them to keep track of their thoughts and feelings (PSC hand-outs, 2011; et al). I have since starting the course used reflecting in conversations with people who struggle to keep track of what they are saying and need help in expressing their concerns.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is another skill used to reflect back to the speaker what they have said, but using the salient points and in the listeners own words. This approach if used at natural intervals or when appropriate demonstrates to the speaker that the listener is fully present, listening and understanding of the speakers thoughts, feelings and meanings and this encourages the speaker to feel open and comfortable with their thoughts and explore them further (PSC hand-outs, 2011; et al). Paraphrasing can work particularly well in other helping relationships especially I find in the work place. Paraphrasing back what a colleague has said can be an effective tool for engaging people as they sense you are listening intently.


Silence is a useful skill in a helping relationship. It allows the person to stand back and look at themselves and arrive at their own answers. The listener uses silence in the setting of a helping relationship to assist the speaker and give them time to reflect on their situation. The listener is setting out a space for the speaker to communicate their thoughts and feelings at their own pace (PSC hand-outs, 2011). Silence can also be effective in other helping relationships for example I find in meetings with less confident team members leaving space in terms of silence to let them speak enables them to open up and air their thoughts and for me to get a better understanding of what concerns them.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Body language

Milne,  2010, et al  assert that both reading others and being aware of our own body language is a necessary skill of the listener in a helping relationship. By the listener showing an open posture and facial expressions it will make the speaker feel more relaxed and trusting. Further benefits of reading body language are that they give out clues as to what the speaker is not communicating verbally and this enables the listener to probe further using other core counselling skills. Understanding body language and reading it correctly is  a skill that useful in everyday life and I use this in helping relationships in the work place as often someone’s posture will indicate how they are feeling towards me and this then enables me to approach them accordingly. For example if they are arms crossed and head down I will beware that they are most likely feeling defensive about what I am about to ask them, so a softer approach from me is required to help the relationship along and encourage openness.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Mirroring

Milne (2010), assert that mirroring resembles parroting and if used sensitively can be well received by the speaker in a helping relationship. For example the speaker may say ‘I love my new house, but there’s so much to do’ followed by a grimace that implies not all is well. The listener would respond having picked up on the facial expression, for example a tense mouth and mirroring the grimace back to them and saying ‘a lot of work?  Using this core skill will encourage the speaker to open up and explore their concerns in more detail and enable the listener to help them through their concerns and understand why they feel this way.

Boundaries & Core Skills – Summarising

Summarizing is similar to paraphrasing except it puts larger chunks of information together. This is used when the speaker and listener have talked for some length. It demonstrates to the speaker that the listener has kept abreast of all they have said and has understood. Plus it encourages the speaker to explore their thoughts and feeling further having rounded up their situation. It is also useful to the speaker to keep them on track with where they are to date. It is also used in the ending of a helping relationship as it serves to demonstrate to the listener how far they have come and that their journey is nearing its end.  This skill  is also effective in other helping relationships for example summarizing at the end of a work meeting shows an acknowledgement of what been said and that it was understood and that the attendees where listened to.

Describe useful strategies for ending a helping relationship and the possible impact of the relationship coming to an end

A useful strategy in ending a helping relationships to set out from the beginning how many sessions are likely to be needed and the frequency of the sessions so the speakers expectations of the helping relationship and its ending are managed from the beginning. Moreover that they are aware of what the ending looks like for example informing them that a pre review and an evaluation will take place and what it is likely to cover.

A useful strategy for ending a helping relationship is to conduct a review a couple of weeks prior to the anticipated end of the helping relationship. This will signal to the speaker the end is due and give them time to adjust. It will also serve to determine if an extended period is required. The re-negotiation of extended sessions should have been addressed at the setting of boundaries stage and followed as set out.

Another useful strategy following on from the pre review is a final summarization or evaluation. This will cover the journey so far, their achievements, insight, growth and if appropriate discuss any referrals to other therapists or medical practitioners.

Boundaries & Core Skills

A further strategy could be for the listener to discuss with the speaker what support the speaker has outside the sessions and how they will cope going forwards and if follow-up sessions might be necessary at a later date.

The impact of ending of full term helping relationships are likely to be a positive experience for both speaker and listener as goals will likely have been achieved and both parties will be a sense of accomplishment.

Another impact

Another impact of the termination process might be a feeling of closure and a sense that the process is complete and the ending is timely.

Where there has been premature termination of the helping relationship it is suggests Sutton, et al, in the best interests of the speaker to (when possible) perform an evaluation.

This will likely demonstrate goals not achieved and cause feelings of disappointment, but it may also serve as a point of referral and new beginnings.

There could be a negative impact on the speaker as a result of the helping relationship ending. The evaluation and summarisation process may prove difficult as memories of   the past weeks or months are relived. Also he speaker may have forgotten or distanced themselves from the problems with which they came and find the evaluation painful.

It is also possible that the speakers experience of relationships ending has been negative and this may impact how they feel about this ending.

The impact

The impact of the sessions coming to end for the speaker could be very emotional and bring up fears of losing the relationship with the listener. Also the speaker may have feelings of withdrawal knowing that the relationship is ending, especially if the helping relationship has been over a longer period. Thrampi (20011) asserts ‘for the speaker the result is of feelings about the loss and grief or insecurities of losing the relationship.  For clients, this is something to process.  For counsellors, this is an issue for supervision.’

Boundaries & Core Skills

Boundaries & Core Skills. In helping relationships outside the counselling framework it is as well to set expectations for example a friend had asked for help with a their CV and I felt if I had not put a strategy in place to articulate how much time I was prepared to devote to helping in the capacity and what I would needed from my friend to complete her CV it would have dragged on for may weeks. By stating the time allocated and the frequency of meetings I was able to manage her expectation of what she would receive and when the helping relationship for the purposes of rewriting her CV would end.

Further possible impacts of the ending of the helping relationship for the listener could be that they have a negative experience if the relationship has been a difficult. For example: where the speaker has been resistant to the process, leaving the listener emotionally drained and with depleted resources. This could leave the listener’s empathy levels depleted and it is therefore important that as part of the ending strategy the listener allows time for supervision to recharge (Milne, et al).

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