We’ve discussed boundaries in this module, in formal peer support settings. This can be a difficult balance, because it involves supporting and encouraging a person, while maintaining the distance needed to be an effective peer supporter.
However, it does offer the possibility of developing and maintaining a good relationship founded in hope, trust and respect. The aim is to help to create an environment where recovery can begin to happen. However there is a risk that some may misunderstand the relationship and mistake it for friendship.
Boundaries show that we are taking responsibility for our own lives and that we knowingly accept the consequences of our choices, in this way peer supporters model recovery: they show that they are accountable for their actions and choices. Therefore, boundaries are not just beneficial to the peer worker but for others too.
Thinking about the things you have already learned about the potential consequences of not having clear boundaries in formal peer support settings, consider these questions:
- Why might boundaries become blurred in peer support environments?
- What can be done in recognition of this?
- What skills will peer supporters need to use when clarifying and agreeing boundaries?
Here are some scenarios that you may wish to think about, in relation to these questions.
John is a peer supporter. He knows that one of the people he supports is an experienced roofer. John asks this person to help him fix a leak.
Rachel has been supporting Amy for four weeks. One evening when Rachel is out with her friends at a local bar she bumps into Amy. Amy asks Rachel if she wants a drink and although Rachel says she is fine Amy buys her another glass of wine. Rachel feels embarrassed and hurriedly thanks Amy before turning back to her friends.
Bob has had his benefit payments stopped and has no money. He asks his peer supporter for help and they agree to lend him some money until next week.
Kate (peer supporter) and Susanne have connected well since they started working together. At the end of a session Susanne comes over to hug Kate and to tell her how much she means to her and how she feels that she could not live without her.
The Complex Issue of Boundaries
The scenarios are designed to encourage you to think about the complex issues of boundaries. There are not necessarily any right or wrong answers, but a common theme is the need to ensure clarity and negotiation at the outset.
In scenario 1 there are issues around dual relationships and along with ethical considerations there could also be legal implications for John and his employer. There is a need to consider the location of power in the relationship. What happens if the person agrees and something goes wrong? What happens if the person does not agree?
In scenario 2 there are issues around honesty and a lack of openness about boundaries. This demonstrates the need to negotiate clear boundaries at the outset.
In scenario 3 the peer supporter would need to consider how lending money would affect the power balance in the peer relationship and the implications of the money not being paid back.They should also consider whether it would be setting an unhelpful precedent and also be mindful of any organisational policies.
In scenario 4 the peer supporter has to be honest about their levels of comfort with physical contact. Some people are fine with hugging and others aren’t. Kate may also want to sensitively explore what Susanne means when she says she cannot live without her. It is important not to overly interpret this and remember that phrases like that can have a variety of meanings to different people.