4-18 MacroSW Chat
Agency Culture: Establishing Balanced Boundaries
The relationship between the worker and the client is very important for the therapeutic process. Relationship boundaries are placed on a continuum, that of being ‘Entangled’ on the one extreme, and ‘Rigid’ on the other. A worker’s goal should be to stay somewhere in the middle of the continuum, which can be considered the ‘Balanced’ section (Davidson, 2005). Establishing boundaries is a beginning step for decreasing a worker’s vulnerability to conditions such as Vicarious Traumatization.
Rigid boundaries can create significant distance within the relationship. This can cause issues such as client neglect, client abandonment, or uninformed assessments. Entangled boundaries refer to consistent over-involvement, where the worker may be investing more time and emotional energy into their client in a way that is not helpful for the client. The worker is meeting his/her own emotional, social, and/or physical needs through the worker/client relationship at the expense of the client (Davidson, 2005).
When workers have ‘Balanced’ boundaries, they use their authority fittingly, use professional judgment and self-reflection skills in their assessment, do not exploit their clients’ vulnerabilities nor infringe on their clients’ rights. It does not mean that the worker is completely flexible on every issue; however, the worker will attend to the clients’ needs while preserving their professional role (Davidson, 2005). We all can fall outside the balanced range at some point. Knowing this, one can understand that at times we may move towards the rigid or entangled end of the continuum; however, we must become self-aware of this and try to return to the healthy center.
Davidson (2005) adds that the professional setting can also influence where the worker lays on the boundary continuum. For example, if the agency where the worker is employed gives staff high caseloads, is unsupportive, and deals with highly resistant clients, the worker may become more rigid. In contrast, a worker who lives in the same community as most of his/her clients and meets with them in area diners or pubs may become more entangled. The agency may have to work with the employee to help create a more ‘balanced’ environment for the worker.
A healthy workplace culture can include supports like access to professional development workshops and resources that promote self care. Professionals, especially in the field of social work, are exposed to not only their own personal trauma, but also the trauma of others. A more balanced workplace environment can lead to more balanced boundaries. Every professional is susceptible to moving outside of the ideal balanced range, depending on the situation, but with the guidance and support of the agency and its leadership, the worker has a better chance to remain in the center of the boundaries continuum.
Davidson, J.C. (2005). Professional relationship boundaries: A social work teaching module. Social Work Education, 24(5), 511-533.
Lotmore, A. (2014). The importance of agency culture and balanced boundaries. The New Social Worker Magazine, 21(4), 8-9.
- How would you define agency/organizational culture?
- Not using the names of agencies, have you ever worked or interned in an agency where the workplace culture was not ideal? If so, how did that affect you?
- How can a negative agency culture impact the clients and the quality of services delivered?
- Professionals, especially in the field of social work, are exposed to not only their own personal trauma, but also the trauma of others. What are ways agencies can support and promote self-care for their employees?
- What are ways to improve workplace culture at the agency level?
Hosted by Chat Contributor, Alyssa Lotmore, LMSW – @AlyssaLotmore
Alyssa is employed at the University at Albany’s School of Social Welfare, where she earned her BSW and MSW degrees. In addition to her main role working with alumni, she has been co-hosting The Social Workers Radio Talk Show on the University’s FM radio station (WCBD 90.9 FM) since 2013 (Twitter – @socialworkersfm; website – http://thesocialworkersradiotalkshow.simplecast.fm/). Alyssa created the course Media Savvy Social Work, which allows students hands-on practice in using the medium of radio for advocacy. She has given multiple presentations on the topic, including at the National Association of Social Workers National Conference in Washington, DC. Through all of her projects, her focus is on seeing the public as client, and using different forms of media to reach individuals who may never has considered seeing or using a social worker. As social work professionals, she believes that we need to be media savvy in sharing our expertise and raising awareness about issues that we care about.