Offering your live in care services to those who are vulnerable or in need of support is an honourable job. But there are times where you will have to establish your position in the relationship between you and your client. Without setting professional limits, you may face some challenges that could easily be avoided.

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are restrictions we create for ourselves about what we feel is acceptable behaviour from other individuals. Boundaries are personal and different for everyone because it is a reflection of what we expect from others.

Boundaries could be thought of as a physical line which marks out your personal space, preferences and rights. However, boundaries are not to block people out, they are to keep you comfortable around your clients. Productive boundaries can be the centre of client, carer relationship and they help to develop mutual respect, stability and trust.

The three steps of setting boundaries

When you are setting boundaries between yourself and your client, communication is the most important aspect. Boundaries are what we personally feel so they should be communicated to your client starting with ‘I’, making the boundary distinctive to you, not just a general statement.

Convey – The first step to setting boundaries is to describe and convey what the issue is between you and your client and what change you think is necessary to settle the problem. Try to focus on the behaviour rather than your client. An example is “It makes me uncomfortable when” rather than “You make me uncomfortable when”.

You should be clear and open about the boundary you are setting and what will happen if your client breaks that boundary. You should also try to prepare for the response that your client will give you in advance. Always remember to approach the situation calmly and without any aggression.

Set – Setting a boundary should be a negotiation between you and your client. This should be a conversation between both of you where you share and listen to each other’s feelings and thoughts before coming to a mutual agreement. Be honest about how you feel and if the negotiation has been discussed and is not possible then you have no other choice than to apply the boundary without compromising.

You can set boundaries by informing and requesting how you feel about behaviour. Remember, it is not about your client’s behaviour, not about them as an individual.

Inform: “When you ___________I feel ________”

Request: “Can I ask you to ___________”

Kept – Make sure that you take your time to note when your client is keeping your boundary wish and when they are not. If they are maintaining your wishes, let them know that you recognise and appreciate what they are doing. If a client breaks a boundary, you need to bring it up with them and be realistic about what has happened. It can sometimes be the easy option to keep the peace but if you do not address the situation, you are less likely to see a positive change. Take time to think about a response and do not respond in the heat of the moment because it may lead you to say something you regret.

You should also consider the fact that your client may want to express their boundaries to you as well, so communication is key. The majority of the time, whilst working in care, clients are very appreciative of the effort their carers provide and usually there is no need for boundaries.