Working with a Therapist – Boundaries

Question: “I was a foster child at an early age and was hurt by three separate families leaving me with no real parental figures ever. My therapist said that I had her unconditional love after one session. Is she allowed to say that? Is she crossing a line? Also last sessions she said that she was looking to give away some of her things from home that have been sitting in her drawer for a long time and she said she thought of me. So she ended up giving me some items. Again is she allowed to do that?”

Answer: I appreciate your writing in. I’d first say that you need to trust your intuition. It sounds like you have a mountain of hurt and have not had a really secure base to work with in light of your family of origin and the shifts in your living situations as a child. Also, your lack of adult caretakers and figures you could trust and bond with must have been really painful too as you learned to trust and connect with others. Glad to hear that you are reaching out for healing and wholeness.

Your question about your therapist telling you that she ‘loves you unconditionally’ is one I’d like to address here. The term unconditional love is one used in clinical circles and by laypersons alike. The term as used by your therapist was likely used inappropriately in that context in session. Within a fifty minute session, especially the first session, I doubt that the terms love and unconditional can be used regarding her relationship to you as you hardly know each other and those with healthy boundaries would not be making such claims without time and relationship building. That noted, I often do not talk in terms of ‘loving’ my clients but rather caring and supporting them in the therapeutic process.

Regarding the gifting … I’d say that you return the items to your therapist. She is a mental health professional and  appears well meaning. I feel that your taking gifts from her would impair her relationship with you, in that she may not see clinically clearly without bias or colored lenses due to the dynamic that is created by gifting you. The therapist-client relationship is a professional one, yet one of caring and concern. In the therapists kindness, she clearly was being led more from her heart than a code of ethics. Now, in the ethics code based on her professional organization, it likely does not say you cannot give gifts to clients, typically it is the other way around, they cannot get gifts from you. I suggest you meet with your therapist and talk about your concerns with her. Telling her about your discomfort with the gifts and that you were not sure what to make of her comment about her loving you unconditionally during the first session. If you are still not comfortable and unable to work it out or don’t want to, I’d recommend your finding another therapist to work with, as they are not all created equal.

One Response to 'Working with a Therapist – Boundaries'

  1. Geri says:

    Sorry when I said that she said that I had her unconditional love after one session I did not mean after the first session. I ment after one of the sessions. Thank you for your advice. I will keep it in mind.