Out of Bounds
Miriam Greenspan, MEd, LMHC
A client in psychotherapy tells me that her father repeatedly sexually molested her as a young child, explaining that he had a “problem with boundaries.” Another woman informs me that both of her children were the result of marital rape; she describes her husband—a violent alcoholic who battered her—as a man who “violated” her “boundaries.” A brochure put out by the Massachusetts House of Representatives Committee on Sexual Misconduct is called “Broken Boundaries: Sexual Misconduct by Physicians, Therapists, and Other Health Professionals.”
It seems that everywhere you look, the psychotherapy world is buzzing with talk about boundaries. The term is used by patients and therapists alike, by incest survivors and self-diagnosed “codependents,” by psychoanalysts and radical feminists, by individual and family therapists. In this language, good boundaries make for healthy, safe relationships; in therapy, they keep the relationship ethical by creating a safety zone of distance between patient and therapist. Poor boundaries lead to physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse.
The phrase “poor boundaries” is used to describe all manner of professional conduct and misconduct—from the social worker who hugs a client at the door to the doctor who rapes a patient he has drugged. Just as smoking marijuana is believed by some to be a step on the road
Reprinted by permission. Greenspan, M. (1995). Out of bounds. Common Boundary Magazine,