Boundaries With Clients Through EMDR

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Boundaries With Clients Through EMDR

Sometimes we struggle to have good boundaries with clients and can be at risk for compassion-fatigue.  In such cases it becomes all the more important to be able to have good boundaries with clients. The good news is that doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as a clinician can be very helpful in achieving this.

Why All the Emphasis on Boundaries?

You may be saying to yourself, “I don’t need to work on having boundaries with my clients. I already have good boundaries with them”. You could wind up having a session with a client in which these are tested. Or you may wind up seeing them somewhere and having an interaction in which these are challenged.  My point is that you can never have boundaries with clients that are too good.  If you’re boundaries are like concrete walls you probably wouldn’t have picked counseling as a career in the first place.  Good counselors tend to have a lot of empathy. They need to work on having a better ability to separate from their clients issues.

My Experience with EMDR

My own experiences in therapy drew me into this career. And within the last 10 years was fortunate enough to find a therapist who practiced EMDR.  Having benefitted from EMDR myself as a client, I later got trained to practice it as a clinician.  I’ve been using EMDR as a therapist for over 5 years now. I have found that having done it as a client has helped me to have a better ability to have a clear line of demarcation between me and my clients.  Developing resources made this all possible. Resources help the client with trauma processing. And they can be specifically for the purpose of having boundaries (in my case).  They can be for just about anything. But I have found myself more often than not doing EMDR (bi-lateral) tapping in session with one of my clients in such a way as to reinforce the idea of separateness with them.  This would happen at times when I would otherwise risk being overwhelmed by what they’re struggling with.

EMDR and Boundaries

One of the first things people do when they are clients doing EMDR is to develop what is called a safe or calm place.  Develop this further by adding real or imaginary figures or symbols as what are called resources.  These resources get activated in certain situations to help the client cope. I’m not suggesting that you go and do EMDR to have better boundaries with your clients. What I’m suggesting is that you develop some way of reminding yourself of having boundaries with your clients.  It can be in the form of a shield or some other separating imagery that helps remind you that you and your client are totally separate beings.  Along with this can go some kind of anchor that helps you activate that experience.  It can be as simple as touching some part of your body like your earlobe or something that cues an inner experience of boundaries.  It needs to be simple in terms of the anchor and the imagery or experience that goes with it.

Taking It Forward

There are some times when I need to focus on good boundaries that I don’t even think to call them up.  At those times it’s more about just trying to keep up with my clients and responding as quickly as I can. Not unlike anyone in crisis situations.  When I can think to do it though, activating my inner awareness of having separation from my clients can be a great way to help me stay sane during any given work day.  I encourage each of you to find your own way of emphasizing healthy boundaries with your clients and using as often as you need to for self-care and your own mental health and well-being.

Scott Kampschaefer, LCSW is a private practice therapist in Austin, Texas.  He has an extensive background in working with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder at a clinic for older adults with these disorders in Austin.  He now works with adults and adolescents of all ages in private practice. Find out more about Scott here: