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The concept of ‘boundary’ within the field of counselling

Blundell, Peter John (2017) The concept of ‘boundary’ within the field of counselling. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The concept of ‘boundary’ is ingrained within the counselling literature and ethical frameworks and is often reported by counsellors as part of their experience of counselling. Yet the academic research base in the United Kingdom (UK) upon which the concept is based is limited, with much being derived from the American psychiatric and psychotherapy literature. There is an even greater absence of UK research which considers the concept of boundary from the counsellors’ perspective. This thesis seeks to begin to address that gap in knowledge. It presents qualitative research which explores in depth how counsellors understand and experience the concept of boundary in their practice. Using a phenomenological approach, interviews were completed with seven qualified and practicing counsellors in the UK. These interviews are analysed using multiple qualitative methods. These methods produced their own methodological insights. Six major findings are identified in the interviews: the participants had an idiosyncratic understanding of ‘boundary’ which means no single definition can be stated. Participants find it difficult to define boundaries but are easily able to articulate how they responded to ‘boundary issues’. Participants have their own ‘boundary attitude’ that is their own unique general approach to boundaries which is mainly influenced by their own values and beliefs. This approach does not necessarily correlate with their modality’s traditional view of boundaries. Participants’ feelings of shame (or their apprehension of feeling shame) is a highly influential factor in how they respond to boundary issues. Participants respond to boundary issues with defensive practice when they experience feelings of shame or are fearful of experiencing shame. Participants use a thickening of boundaries to protect themselves from the threat of experiencing shame. This thesis proposes two models based on the participants’ understandings and experience of ‘boundary’. The Boundary Process Map charts out the overall process of how participants experience boundary issues in their practice. The Boundary Response Model (BRM) identifies more specifically how participants respond to boundary issues. These models have influenced the creation of two sets of questions; Boundary Attitude Questions and Boundary Issue Questions which can be used by counsellors, supervisors and trainers to support counsellors in exploring their general attitude and understanding towards boundaries whilst also exploring their response to specific boundary issues. This thesis is the first study to explore boundaries from the perspective of the counsellor. Therefore, this research offers valuable new insights into the concept whilst also identifying potential new areas of study. Furthermore, this research proposes new insights for training and practice of counsellors when working with boundary issues including terminological recommendations.

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