Hey Thriving Therapists!
As a Bodywork therapist of 18 years, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to establish and maintain healthy boundaries with our clients. It’s a common struggle that many of us face in our careers, but it’s crucial that we learn to set boundaries in order to ensure our own well-being, the success of our businesses, and the satisfaction of our clients.
As a therapist, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking on too much, bending over backwards for your clients, and not prioritizing your own needs. But if you continue down this path, it will ultimately lead to burnout, stress, and a short career.
Something that all people-pleaser therapists will have in common is that they struggle to attract and retain clients who respect their time and expertise, and instead attract the opposite.
The #1 sign that you’re not setting the right boundaries with clients is feeling resentful or depleted after sessions. If this is the case, it’s time to re-evaluate your boundaries.
Let’s break down some common scenarios where boundaries need to be set:
- Taking same-day appointments at the drop of a hat. While it may seem like a great way to accommodate clients and make more money, it can lead to a stressful, unpredictable schedule and leave you feeling depleted.
- Over-delivering in sessions hoping they rebook. While it’s important to give your clients your all, it’s equally important to have a clear sense of what a session should look like and not give away too much.
- Accepting low-paying clients and groupons just for the sake of gaining some experience is a classic mistake. Not only does it devalue your time and expertise, but it can also attract clients who are not invested in their own healing.
- Bending over backward for any and every client you have. While it’s great to be accommodating, it can also lead to feeling resentful and taken advantage of.
So, how can you set healthy boundaries without feeling “mean” or “rude”? It all starts with prioritizing your own needs and being clear on what you’re willing and not willing to do.
To create bulletproof boundaries, start by identifying the biggest misconception therapists have about setting boundaries – that it means you’re being selfish or not caring for your clients. In reality, setting boundaries is an act of self-care and helps create a safe, professional environment for your clients.
There are three levels of boundaries to consider – physical, emotional, and professional.
By pinpointing each of these areas, you can show up more authentically, feel less resentful, and cultivate deeper relationships with your clients.
Here are some strategies to consider starting with:
- Be clear about your policies and expectations from the beginning. When you take on a new client, make sure they are aware of your policies regarding cancellations, payment, and other important details.
- Set limits on your availability. Determine specific hours of operation and stick to them. Don’t be afraid to turn off your phone or email outside of these hours.
Learn to say no. It can be difficult to turn down a potential client or referral, but sometimes it’s necessary for your own well-being and the success of your practice.
Be mindful of your physical and emotional boundaries. Don’t be afraid to speak up if a client is making you uncomfortable or crossing a boundary.
Take care of yourself. Make sure to schedule breaks throughout the day, take time off when you need it, and prioritize your own mental and physical health.
And finally, when it comes to saying “no”, it’s important to do so in a way that feels good to you and makes sense to them. This means not over-explaining or apologizing, but rather being clear and direct about what you can and cannot do.
Let’s say a client calls you outside of your working hours and asks if they can book a last-minute appointment for the next day. You already have a full schedule for the day and you don’t want to work on your day off. You can set a boundary with the client in a friendly, but not apologetic way by saying something like:
“Hi [client name], thank you so much for reaching out to me. I’m actually fully booked tomorrow and I try to take Sundays off to recharge and spend time with my family. I would be more than happy to schedule an appointment for you during my regular working hours next week. How does that sound?”
This response sets a clear boundary by stating that you’re fully booked and have a day off, but still offers a solution that meets the client’s needs within your normal working hours. It’s friendly because you thank the client for reaching out and offer a solution that shows you care about their needs. It’s not apologetic because you’re not apologizing for having boundaries and taking care of yourself.
Setting healthy boundaries with clients shows that you value your time, energy, and expertise as a therapist. When you are clear about what you are willing and able to offer, you attract clients who respect and appreciate your professional boundaries. This results in a better quality of client who is willing to pay your full fee and understands the value of your services.
Clients who understand and respect your boundaries are more likely to show up on time, be fully present during sessions, and follow through on your recommendations. They are also more likely to refer others to your practice who are like-minded and share similar values.
In contrast, clients who consistently push your boundaries or disregard them altogether can drain your energy, cause frustration and resentment, and ultimately lead to burnout. By setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, you are able to protect your mental and emotional well-being, which allows you to provide high-quality services to all of your clients.
When you are consistent in setting and enforcing your boundaries, you create a reputation for yourself as a professional who is confident, knowledgeable, and respected in your field. This can lead to more referrals, more repeat business, and a stronger overall reputation as a therapist. Ultimately, setting healthy boundaries will not only attract a better quality client, but will also make you more desirable to book with.
If you’re struggling with boundaries in your practice, know that you’re not alone. You will likely find there are many areas in your life where you are also struggling with boundaries and you have some inner work to be done. As professional therapists, our journey isn’t just about enhancing our skills, but also in continuing our personal development as individuals.
If you acknowledge you need some work on your boundary-setting skills, reach out to a mentor, coach, or colleague who is qualified in this area for support and guidance. And remember, setting boundaries is an ongoing process – it takes time and practice, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Wishing you all the best in your practice,
P.S. If you’re looking for additional support in growing your complementary therapy practice, consider checking out our ecourses and private mentoring services at Thriving Therapist. We’re here to help you have a long-lasting and thriving therapy career!