Most healthcare professionals don’t knowingly compromise their professional relationship with a client. They treat their clients with respect and compassion, but that does not mean that relationship issues or difficult situations don’t arise from time to time.

The following blog discusses the nature of professional relationships and recognizes possible problematic situations.

What Are Professional Boundaries?

Boundaries entail the framework in which the relationship between a client and medical professional occurs. The duration of a session, limited personal disclosure, limited physical contact, consistent fee setting, and the general tone come under professional boundaries. If explained more simply, the professional boundary refers to the line between the clinician and client’s personal life and private life.

The fundamental concern in establishing and maintaining boundaries with each client must be in the client’s best interest. Setting up professional boundaries is not based on what’s right or wrong, except when they are of sexual nature or apparent conflict of interest. They are rather dependent on several different factors and require you to analyze the situation at hand carefully.

Areas Where professional Boundaries Can Become Blurred

Every professional is required to maintain boundaries between personal and professional with their clients. Here are some typical areas where it can be challenging to draw a line.


In some cases, where it is actually for the client’s benefit, self-disclosure may be appropriate. The purpose should be evident in the mind of the professionals because self-disclosure can present several dangers. Some of those dangers include the blurred line between a professional relationship and a friendship and shifting the focus from a client’s needs to the clinician’s needs. The blurred boundaries may end up confusing the client about the roles and expectations.

Receiving Or Giving Gifts

The giving or receiving gifts of more than token value is not appropriate in a professional relationship. It presents risks of changing the relationship between a medical professional and a client. For example, if a client receives a gift from their practitioner, they may feel the need to reciprocate to avoid altering the clinical relationship and receiving “inferior” care. On the other hand, if a medical professional accepts a gift, they may risk altering their relationships with the clients and feel pressured to provide “special” care.

Dual And Overlapping Relationships

Dual relationships should always be avoided as it presents a conflict of interest. These happen when a medical professional shares a significant authority or an emotional relationship with the client. For example, the professional may also be a family member, a course instructor or even a friend of the client. So it is crucial that they remain aware that a dual relationship is to avoid power imbalance in clinical relationships.

Overlapping relationships are also problematic but are difficult to avoid. In overlapping relationships, professionals have contact but share no authority or emotional relationship with the client.  This may occur for medical professionals who are members of small communities or work with the client population they are affiliated with. For example, the professional and the client may be members of a particular religious group who tend to practice in the same community. Situations that present overlapping relationships are judged on a case-by-case basis.

As a medical professional, you may want to avoid crossing these professional boundaries for the sake of your career. Suppose you feel as if you are crossing a boundary unknowingly. In that case, it is best to consult others in your field or completely hand the client’s case to another medical professional in a similar field to yours. If you want to learn more about the professional boundaries in healthcare relationships, you can take an ethics course online.

Probity and ethics courses are available at Probity & Ethics. You can learn about professional boundaries and many other ethical principles with the help of medical ethics courses available.