Responding to Boundary Issues Copy

Boundary Crossings

Boundary issues or crossings happen when the normal parameters of a relationship are stretched or stepped over in some way. This can be done by either the client or the peer support specialist. Some boundaries in the peer support relationship can be flexible, mutually negotiated or situation-dependent. Peer support relationships are less formal than standard therapist/client or doctor/patient relationships, so the boundaries are less stringent than in those formal settings. Sometimes, boundary crossings can appear to have a short-term benefit for the client. If a client crosses a boundary, you should call the boundary crossing to the client’s attention, state why the request or behavior is not okay, and re-direct the client to a position that is within the appropriate limits of the relationship.

Here is a comparison of boundary crossings and boundary violations.

Are inevitable Are avoidable
Do not always have a clear “right” or “wrong” side Are always wrong
Are ongoing May be a single incident
Are not illegal May involve illegal activities


Boundary Violations

We primarily think of boundary violations as being committed by the person who holds responsibility for protecting the boundaries in a relationship. Generally, that is the person with the most power, control or responsibility – the parent, the boss or in this case, the peer support specialist.

Violations involve the victimization and exploitation of a person who is receiving services from a provider. A violation is a betrayal of the sacred covenant of trust. Boundary violations are actions or behaviors all agree are never ok. This is true whether we are a traditional service provider or a peer support provider. Examples might include:

  • Having a sexual relationship with a person who is receiving services.
  • Using illegal drugs or alcohol with people who are receiving services.
  • Venting personal problems with people who are receiving services.
  • Intimidating, threatening, harassing, using undue influence, using physical force and/or verbal abuse, or coercing people who are receiving services.
  • Sharing personal or confidential information without permission in any instances other than a threat of harm to self (including domestic abuse) or others.

In an ideal world, neither you nor any of your colleagues would commit a boundary violation. However, you are likely to observe or even commit some boundary violations during your work as a peer support specialist. Boundary violations are always unethical and should be handled according to your agency policies and procedures and any ethical code of conduct to which you are bound. In any case, boundary violations should be addressed immediately upon realizing that they have happened.

Clients may not recognize boundary violations when they occur. Even if they are aware that a boundary has been violated, clients may be reluctant to report or complain about boundary violations. On the other hand, some clients may claim a boundary has been violated when a clear violation of boundaries has not actually happened. You should not assume that if the client has not complained, there is no violation. If you become aware or are concerned that a boundary violation has occurred, you should:

  • Seek supervision to help discern whether a violation has occurred and determine the appropriate course of action
  • Report the violation (if one has occurred) according to agency policy
  • Inform the client of actions taken, as appropriate
  • Seek additional training or consultation as recommended by your supervisor
  • Fulfill any sanctions or disciplinary requirements if you are the violator.

Module 7 Reflection Activity: Boundary Violations

Instructions: Reflect on the following questions. Have you had difficulties with boundaries either as a recipient of services or as a peer support specialist? What type of boundary issue gave you trouble? Was there an actual boundary violation or just a boundary crossing? Were you satisfied with the way the issue was resolved?

Note: This activity is for reflection only and does not need to be submitted along with your workbook. 

Notes for Reflection: Did you experience boundary issues in both roles? If so, were they similar or related issues? How does this affect the way you will look at this boundary in the future?

Action Points – Boundaries

  • The Peer Support Specialist is responsible for establishing and maintaining boundaries in the peer relationships
  • The Peer Support Specialist should discuss and negotiate boundaries at the outset of the relationship with the client
  • The Peer Support Specialist appropriately uses boundaries to:
  • Promote trust
  • Increase safety
  • Demonstrate respect
  • Develop rapport (working alliance)
  • Provide structure to the peer support relationship.
  • The Peer Support Specialist distinguishes between boundary crossings, which may be permissible or even helpful to the client and boundary violations, which are harmful
  • The Peer Support Specialist recognizes that there may be boundary issues regarding
    • Disclosure
    • Dual Relationships
    • Touch
    • Recovery Relationships
    • Sexual Attraction
  • The Peer Support Specialist is aware that boundary violations are also ethical violations and takes appropriate action when violations occur.

Module 7 Activity:  Crossing or Violation

Instructions:  Click the box below to complete Module 7 Activity: Crossing or Violation.