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Setting Clear and Ethical Boundaries with Clients (10 Hours)
Ethics boundaries continuing education Social Worker CEU

Section 17

Ethics CEU Question 17 | Ethics CE Test | Table of Contents | Boundaries
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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I feel that in a crisis, advice-giving is an activity that if used too freely and with poor timing, can cause you to become personally involved in the success or failure of your advice.

Despite these problems, advice-giving is a valid technique, as you know, if wisely used. You, of course, need to set a boundary to be sensitive to the clues a client gives that indicate they need advice and direct suggestions. Advice should be based on knowledge, objective analysis of the situation, and judgment of the client's capacity to accept counsel.

Using the authority-of-knowledge as a basis for these activities implies that the therapist breaks the boundary of client self-determination. By giving advice, this indicates that you know more about dealing with the client's concerns than the client does. Thus, to be ethical, advice giving should be based on an objective and realistic evaluation of all the factors involved.

♦ Ethical Advice-Giving
An example of advice giving related to the authority-of-knowledge is as follows. It was reported that a physician teaching a course on human sexuality was attacked for lecturing about homosexuality when he himself was not gay. He responded that he had never been pregnant either, but he could teach about pregnancy. The therapist's experiences may provide unique learning for the client, however, unless the therapist's experiences are accompanied by other knowledge and related to the client's therapy goal, the boundary has been crossed to meeting the therapist's needs rather than the client's needs.

You may have had the frustrating experience of proposing solutions and giving advice that the client either agrees with verbally and does not follow, or carries out in such a way that it fails. In general, it is a questionable boundary violation to say, for example, "With my oldest son, I always set midnight as a curfew and insisted that he be in by then." This lends a personal element to the session that can lead to a focus on the therapist rather than the client. Certainly therapists use what they learn in their personal experiences, but when logical discussion of solutions is underway, it is better to maintain a firm boundary and not to personalize the situation.

♦ 5 Guidelines for Advice-Giving
The success or failure of advice-giving depends on the client's capacity to use it. If you decide to go into the gray area of the advice-giving boundary, I have found clients are most frequently able to use advice successfully in the following situations.
See what you think of the five following guidelines:
1. First and foremost in crisis situations, when my client's ability to deal with the problem is inadequate and he or she is suffering anxiety, pain, fear, and other extreme emotions.
2. When the client has a well-founded confidence in and respect for a third party source, I find by quoting this third party source, the client may be more likely to listen to the ideas.
3. When their cultural conditioning or life situation is such that they tend to depend on others rather than on themselves for direction and solution, the client is more likely to follow the advice.
4. When the advice is given in such a way that the client's integrity and right to be self-determining are respected, and it coincides with their needs and wants, the client is more likely to follow the advice.
5. When circumstances are such that they have no alternative, the client is more likely to follow the advice.

- Robison, W. (2000). Ethical Decision Making. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Roberge, V., & Boudrias, J.-S. (2021). The moderating role of employees’ psychological strain in the empowering leadership—Proactive performance relationship. International Journal of Stress Management, 28(3), 186–196.

Rodomonti, M., Crisafulli, V., Mazzoni, S., Curtis, J. T., & Gazzillo, F. (2020). The plan formulation method for couples. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 37(3), 199–206.

Sah, S., & Feiler, D. (2020). Conflict of interest disclosure with high-quality advice: The disclosure penalty and the altruistic signal. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 26(1), 88–104. 

Wanzel, S. K., Schultze, T., & Schulz-Hardt, S. (2017). Disentangling the effects of advisor consensus and advice proximity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 43(10), 1669–1675.

What is one example of a situation when advice-giving is appropriate? To select and enter your answer go to Ethics CE Test.

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