Ethics and Behavior 4 (3):267 – 273 (1994)

In his article "How Certain Boundaries and Ethics Diminish Therapeutic Effectiveness", Lazarus asserts that many clinicians are adhering to strict therapeutic boundaries and ethics in a fear-driven effort to avoid unwarranted malpractice claims. Although I agree that maintenance of conventional therapeutic boundaries is apt to minimize malpractice claims in most cases, I believe that is because such boundaries are critical to protect patients' welfare and thereby promote effective treatment. My reasoning, discussed next, revolves around the following premises: 1. For many, if not most, types of patient problems and patient populations, boundaries and the personal meaning of the therapeutic boundaries are an arena in which critical emotional issues are manifested and worked through. 2. Clear, consistent boundaries provide a structure and safety for many patients that is a curative factor in itself. 3. Patients' reactions to alterations in usual therapeutic boundaries are often unpredictable ahead of time (even if requested by the patient) and typically complex, ambivalent, and heavily colored by transferential meaning. 4. Because alterations in therapeutic boundaries typically add a new therapist role or activity that involves potential gratification of personal needs of the therapist, objectivity in evaluating such a change may be compromised by the inherent self-interest. 5. Consistent, clear boundaries need have no impact on therapist warmth and empathy.
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DOI 10.1207/s15327019eb0403_12
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