June 20, 2024

Building Strong Parameters with Clients

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We have spent a lot of time looking at the nitty-gritty elements of the relationship between mentors and mentees/supervisors and supervisees; how to handle delicate information and situations, how to treat clients with integrity and dignity, how to navigate conflicting interests…. Many of these issues come back to the parameters of the relationship. A parameter is a fixed limit on the relationship itself and is set in place to protect both the mentor/supervisor and the mentee/supervisee.  

The main thing to remember is that your relationship with your client is a professional relationship. That’s what makes it unique, and that’s what makes it work. It has a purpose and a function. There are a few things that you can rely on to set up healthy parameters. 


While the relationship can be friendly, caring, close and fun, much like a friendship, it is primarily about achieving goals and transformation. It would not be appropriate to treat the relationship like a usual friendship. The roles are different, boundaries should be firmly set in place and, generally, the relationship exists only within sessions. Dual relationships should be avoided. They bring the danger of collaboration and triangulation. You should not mentor or supervise a person you have a close relationship with (family, friends, close co-workers). Rather, refer them to a colleague or a service which provides a safe, professional relationship. You should also be wary of the professional relationship slipping into too friendly or intimate territories. If you find you’ve built a deep attachment with a client, you must ask yourself some hard questions: What is going on in me that is causing this need? What is going on in my client? Is there an unhealthy dependency? Discuss this situation with your own supervisor. 


All mentors/supervisors must work hard to protect confidentiality at all costs, allowing trust and safety to develop in the relationship. However, a mentor/supervisor should also be aware of what is legally required to be reported and how they should report. For more information on confidentiality, read our recent blog on the topic: link here.

Knowing the relationship can’t last forever:

Professional relationships have a beginning and an end. Remembering this is helpful as you both get to know each other and gain trust and respect. There will be a time when the sessions will end, either naturally or because of outside circumstances. Be aware of what situations would cause you to terminate the relationship, for example, a client who is disrespectful or too withdrawn and unwilling to engage.  

Here are some common red flags that your parameters are slipping:

After-hours connections—texting, emails, and phone calls—can be appropriate and necessary when they are directly related to the professional relationship. Connecting to discuss scheduling is normal, and occasionally, there may be a need to check in on a client or for them to reach out in times of crisis. However, these instances should be few and far between. 

Expecting more from the relationship. If you find yourself upset that a client has canceled a session, or that you are wanting to share personal and unrelated details about your own life, or you are disappointed you didn’t get the opportunity to chat outside of the session, you may have formed an attachment that is inappropriate. Liking and caring for your client is one thing, but expecting the relationship to be anything other than professional is not healthy. 

Improper meeting spots. It can be challenging to draw the line between privacy and too much intimacy. Meeting behind closed and/or locked doors can promote a sense of unhealthy intimacy. Far better to meet in public places to endorse a sense of casual openness. However, it needs to be private enough that the client isn’t distracted by others or concerned about being overheard. I’ve found that locations like a cafe where you are surrounded by others, but not within earshot, work well. 

Reflection Questions: 

  • How are my parameters with my mentees/supervisees? 
  • Are there any areas where they are slipping? 
  • Who can I speak with to help correct any slipping parameters? 

Whats Next: Do you have a desire to mentor others? Consider your next step in developing your mentoring competencies.

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