One of the double edged swords of my work is that if my clients were not my clients, I’d love to be friends with most of them in real life.
I mean, who would not want to grab a cup of coffee with people who are so creative, funny, sensitive, brave, vulnerable , introspective and kind? I sure would!
As it happens, my clients often feel the same way and will invite me to dinner or a fundraiser or a wedding. And as much as I would probably have an amazing time, I always decline offers to spend time with them on a personal level.
On the surface, there is a very solid reason why- The Licensing Board Of the State of North Carolina would have my ass. Socializing with clients is not permitted and I’d like to keep my credentials in tact.
But there are deeper reasons. Relational reasons that I want to expand on for a minute because I know that they are vital to the work my clients and I engage in.
Together, we explore the world of their families of origin. The families they grew up in, for better or worse. How the people who made up their lives related to them and each other and ultimately, formed a basis for their own level of self worth and value.
Without exception, my clients have experienced a lack of boundaries in their growing up years. It might have looked like sexual or physical abuse. It could have been enmeshment, where they were not allowed to have a separate sense of self. Or perhaps my client was parentified and had to take on the emotional care of the parent(s). However it looked, there was no solid sense of structure or containment in the home. And to a child especially, these boundaries spell SAFETY.
Cue the reason I don’t engage with my clients outside my office. It is imperative that I create safety in our sessions and one of the ways to do this is to define our relationship. To make very clear who we are and how we will relate to each other, which by definition includes the ways we will not be relating. Another thing that’s important to delineate is what actually happens in our shared space and what does not. I can’t tell you the number of clients whose homes were filled with chaos and confusion such that they had no idea what was going to happen next. Part of the structure we set up right away is this: Here is how we will relate and here is what you can expect when you come here. Not having to guess at these things is an immense relief to most people I work with.
If I were to attend a birthday party or see a play with my clients, it blurs those boundaries in an irreparably damaging way. They no longer know what to make of our dynamic, or what to expect from our relationship. Are we going to get together again? Did I have fun? Were they a good companion? See what I mean… it’s already getting messy and i’m just writing about it! And I am not willing to be yet another person in their lives they have a confusing, complicated personal relationship with. We can’t do the deep, beautiful, rich work we do if I am.
So clients, I’m not going to meet you for a walk in the park. It’s not because I don’t like you or wouldn’t want to. It’s because I am going to be one person ( maybe the only one so far) who will take a stand for the clean lines of our relationship so that I can be of greater service to you.
I do thank you for asking and honor your oh so human desire for connection and intimacy. And if I had met you in another way, we’d probably be sitting at Starbucks catching up on life over a latter right now!
With So Much Love,