Boundaries in counselling are agreed limits or rules which protect both the client and the therapist. They set a formal structure, purpose and standards for the therapy and the relationship between you.
Boundaries include both practical details, such as providing clear, professional arrangements for appointments, fees or contact between sessions, and ethical considerations such as remaining impartial, focusing on your needs and maintaining an appropriate relationship.
Your relationship with your counsellor will be a professional one. They will not be a personal friend and, depending on their way of working, may share little personal information about themselves. You will not meet or have any contact, as far as possible, outside of your therapy sessions or when your therapy has finished.
The aim of boundaries is to create a relationship where you feel safe, comfortable and able to talk about your experiences or feelings, even if they seem taboo, frightening or embarrassing.
For further information, see:
Confidentiality in counselling is key to building trust between a counsellor and a client. Your therapist will listen to you in confidence and will not tell anyone else what you say. They won’t discuss you with your GP, employer, family, friends or anyone else without your consent.
However, there are certain circumstances when they may have to pass on information about you. These include:
- if they believe you or other people are in danger
- if they’re required to do so by law
- when referring you to another healthcare professional for help
- when discussing their work with their therapeutic supervisor (this is standard practice)
Any such disclosures will usually be made with your knowledge and consent, but your counsellor may not always be able to ask you first. You should discuss this with your therapist and agree on the limits of confidentiality for your work together.
You should agree a contract for all therapy, whether it's face to face counselling or online. It should cover:
- how many sessions you’ll have and how often you’ll meet
- if there are any fees and how these should be paid
- what happens if you miss a session or if either of you are away on holiday
- how your therapist will protect your privacy and when they might need to disclose information about you
- how they keep records of sessions
- how they’ll keep your personal data safe
How you will work together
- what issues you will work on together
- what approach or methods they might use
- what contact you might have between sessions
A therapist’s work should be governed by a set of values, principles and personal moral qualities that ensure they practise effectively and safely. These include such things as being trustworthy, fair and sincere and treating all clients with respect, care and candour (see Ethics).
All BACP members must agree to adhere to our Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions. At the heart of this is:
If you have any concerns about your therapist or your therapist, you can speak to our confidential Get help with counselling concerns service.
Empathy is your therapist’s ability to see your viewpoint as if they were you. Even if your life and experience is very different to theirs, they will do their utmost to understand your thoughts, emotions and behaviour and be able to communicate that understanding back to you. They will not judge you but will treat you with respect, care and dignity. This is vital to creating a strong and effective therapeutic relationship.
Types of therapy
An A-Z list of the different approaches, modalities or ways of working within counselling and psychotherapy.
What therapy can help with
An A-Z list of issues and concerns which may be helped by talking to a counsellor.
How to get therapy
Where, when and how you can get access to counselling and psychotherapy.