The therapeutic alliance refers to the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist — and a strong therapeutic alliance is key to successful therapy. But so are boundaries. Boundaries exist for the safety of you and your therapist, and to ensure therapy is effective and beneficial. Here are some of the following do’s (and don’ts) to get a better understanding of therapeutic boundaries and how to build a solid therapeutic alliance with your therapist.
To help make sure your therapist is the right fit for you, it’s helpful to know the right questions to ask your therapist regarding their experience, approach, and availability. But questions aren’t just for the beginning of therapy. You can ask questions throughout all of your therapy sessions — whether it’s to get clarity on an assignment from your therapist or to get a better understanding of why you may be feeling a certain way. Getting answers from your therapist on things you’re confused about or want to understand better is crucial to building a strong relationship with them and achieving your therapy goals. So be as open and honest as possible. There are no silly questions in therapy.
Developing trust, a strong rapport, and feeling comfortable with your therapist are all part of a solid therapeutic alliance. But just like any relationship, there are boundaries that should be set. Your relationship with your therapist can’t turn into a friendship or a romantic relationship, and conversations should take place during therapy sessions and not through personal phone calls. Healthy boundaries apply to your therapist’s actions, too. It’s okay to speak up if you feel they may be sharing too much of their own personal experiences, lacking empathy, or if their behavior is making you uncomfortable in any way. Talk to your therapist early and often about boundaries to help ensure you maintain an appropriate and effective relationship.
Therapy sessions should always take place in private — whether they’re in person, on the phone, or through video. While in-person therapy sessions typically take place in your therapist’s office, finding a private space for video or phone sessions can be more challenging. Look for places you feel comfortable in and that are quiet and free from distractions and people. It could be a private room at your home or in your parked car. You can use headphones for extra privacy, too. Therapy sessions should never take place in a public setting, so if you’re having a hard time finding a private space to talk to your therapist, let them know. They can help you find a comfortable place that works for you.
Your time is valuable, and so is your therapist’s. With typical therapy sessions only lasting between 30 and 60 minutes, it’s important to make the most of them. That means arriving at your therapy session on time. If you think you’ll be late, let your therapist know so they can make use of their time until you arrive. It’s also important to respect your therapy session time limit. It can be hard to end a therapy session when you’re in the middle of a conversation or feeling emotional, but remember that you can always schedule a follow-up session. If you feel that you need more time to talk with your therapist, ask them about scheduling more frequent sessions or extending the timeframe for sessions. They’ll work with you to make sure you’re getting the amount of therapy you need to reach your goals.
Your time matters, too. If you feel that you’re not making progress in therapy, it’s okay to talk to your therapist about it. This feedback will help them make changes in how they approach your sessions to make sure you’re getting the most out of your time and effort. If you still feel like you aren’t making progress after having these discussions with your therapist, it may be time to find a new one. That’s okay, too. Remember, having a quality relationship with your therapist is key to successful therapy.
It’s important to bring your whole self to therapy, and to be open and honest with your therapist. Knowing your boundaries and discussing these limitations with them is a big part of that. Always speak up if you feel that your boundaries are being crossed or violated. On the flip side, make sure you understand and respect your therapist’s boundaries. This will help you achieve and maintain a strong therapeutic alliance and ultimately succeed on your therapy journey.
DeAngelis, T. (2019, November 1). Better relationships with patients lead to better outcomes. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/11/ce-corner-relationships
Knobloch-Fedders, L. (2008, January 31). The importance of the relationship with the therapist. The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
Stubbe, D. (2018, October 19). The therapeutic alliance: The fundamental element of psychotherapy. American Psychiatric Association Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.focus.20180022
University of Washington. (n.d.). Finding a private location for therapy. https://www.washington.edu/counseling/finding-a-private-location-for-therapy/
Yandura, K. (2020, May 8). What boundaries should you have with your therapist? Rewire.