Could Your Therapist’s Boundaries Be Triggering Your Insecurities?

Person sits at table with chin resting on hand, holding phone and staring off into distanceTake a few moments to think about how your therapy is set up. Perhaps you have a regular weekly, biweekly, or twice-weekly time. Maybe you meet once a month or “as needed.”

Now consider the availability your therapist has outside of your session time—if any. Can you text your therapist? Do they allow you to email them? Maybe you can call at any time, or maybe they only accept calls before a certain time of night.

Or perhaps these issues aren’t discussed, but they’re dealt with as they come up. If they come up.

Whatever your therapist’s availability, it may help to become aware of how you feel about that availability and how those feelings affect your therapeutic relationship.

Boundaries and Relationships

No matter the reason you are in therapy, there’s often a part connected to your attachment styles and how you are in relationships. Where healthy relationships go, so go boundaries, along with all the issues that the person setting the boundaries may bring up.

You can tell your counselor how angry, scared, anxious, or abandoned you feel—even if it is a feeling and a situation you judge to be petty. 

One of the great things about being an adult is being able to have more control over your time, as well as who gets to take up that time. While we may still have demands on our time such as work, school, or our personal relationships, we have also gained some independence since we’ve grown out of childhood and adolescence. As children, our lives were structured, and those structures were enforced (or not) by other people. Depending on who was making those decisions, we may not have been allowed to express how we felt about those limitations.

Unfortunately, those feelings don’t necessarily disappear when we become adults. They can find their way into romantic relationships, parenting, friendships—and they’re right there in our therapy, if we know where to look and how to use them to grow.

Talking About Your Therapist’s Limits

It can be helpful to examine what feelings your therapist’s limit setting brings up for you because these feelings are likely playing a role in other important relationships.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do you feel an enormous amount of anxiety if someone doesn’t text you back right away? Do you get angry? Worried?
  • Do you get the sense someone doesn’t care enough about you if they aren’t readily available right when you need them? Do you assume they’re screening their calls and refusing to pick up when they see it is you?
  • Do you question your relationship when your partner says they need some time alone? Do you think they don’t love you as much as you love them or that they don’t love you as much as you think they should?

Take another look and see how easily those questions might connect to limits your therapist might set. If you use the therapy space to work through these assumptions and feelings, you can express (or choose not to express) them in your life. You can tell your counselor how angry, scared, anxious, or abandoned you feel—even if it is a feeling and a situation you judge to be petty. This conversation can bring some great insight into what is holding you back in your important relationships outside of the therapy room.

I’m not saying your therapist’s availability is too limited or too open, no matter what their structure is. It may be either. Or perhaps you need to find a therapist whose availability better fits your needs. But your development may benefit if you talk with your therapist about the feelings that arise in reaction to their limit setting.

Give it a go, and feel free to leave a note in the comments as to what this discussion brings up.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Justin Lioi, LCSW, therapist in Brooklyn, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • PJ

    PJ

    February 4th, 2018 at 9:11 PM

    My therapist has been my psychiatrist for 18 years. I have been in therapy a few times over the years. Currently I am in once a week 50 minute hour therapy which began when my father died almost three years ago. My therapist explained that I see him as a father figure due to transference of feelings for and about my dad. My Dr works 3.5 days per week because he is 77; so if he has to cancel an appointment, which doesn’t happen often, we sometimes have to miss a week. This has always bothered me and at times caused anxiety attacks. Recently he asked me why it bothers me so much when he is away. He asked me to think in terms of feelings and experiences with my father. I heard myself answer “what if you don’t come back?” This led to a discussion of abandonment issues I have which we are now working on. The strong relationship I have with my therapist based on trust and safety is worth any inconvenience in his availability.

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    February 14th, 2018 at 1:52 PM

    Wow, PJ, very powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  • Gary Trosclair

    Gary Trosclair

    February 10th, 2018 at 2:45 PM

    Very good suggestions. You’ve taken a complicated subject and made it easy to understand. This is the kind of thing that really makes therapy potent. I’m a therapist and I know that when this kind of thing comes into the room there’s great potential for movement. it looks like your other posts are also very much on target. Thanks for explaining the work we do so well.

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    February 14th, 2018 at 1:52 PM

    Appreciate your thoughts, Gary!

  • J

    J

    February 15th, 2018 at 10:22 PM

    Oh my, where do you want me to start in this? My ex-Therapist messed with my head so much. I tried having this discussion and he did every in his power to continually trigger me, there was no consistency, the rules kept changing, then he blamed me for loosing it when the pressure built so much I was thinking of topping myself. He started copying my husband into emails I did not give him permission too …it was awlful. I finally had enough and fired him, I couldn’t handle the abuse he was dishing out, it was killing me. I’ve had two months without him, am working through the issues with my holistic Dr who is a gem and am.finally starting to re-engage and re-comnect with life again to the point yesterday I felt that I loved life, and was so glad I was here.

  • Lee

    Lee

    February 16th, 2018 at 6:03 AM

    Excellent article. I have been in consistent therapy for the last 10 years. I run into all kinds of emotions around parental feelings towards him, abandonment issues when he goes on vacations etc. I think we need to delve deeper into these strong emotions so that I can free myself from the pain, if possible.

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