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Setting Clear and Ethical Boundaries with Clients

Section 5
Growth versus Security

Question 5 | Test | Table of Contents

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In setting ethical boundaries with clients, we have just discussed the personal needs area of defense mechanisms. The second personal needs area we shall explore is your need of security versus growth.

How do you deal with your needs for security versus growth? As you know, these are two overall categories of needs that are at odds with one another. The interrelationship between growth and security is played out in five areas. These five areas are: emotional, physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual.

♦ Security vs. Growth
The purpose in considering your need for security versus growth is to examine ways in which you may be utilizing your working relationships with clients to meet your needs rather than meeting the needs of the clients. The result may be, perhaps, not setting an ethical boundary with your client. Therapeutic relationships can be a source of personal satisfaction for you; that is normal.

However, as you know, mental health professionals whose personal lives do not fulfill their own needs may find themselves manipulating clients, making them overly dependent, using them to satisfy needs for power, prestige, or self-fulfillment. This, of course, does not mean that the therapist gets no satisfaction from his or her successes. Rather it means that your satisfaction is derived from the client's freedom to develop and to be successful as a person apart from the therapist.

5 Areas of Conflict in Security vs. Growth
What does this mean to you personally? Let's look at the five areas in which the conflict between security and growth arises. These five areas are, as mentioned earlier:
-- 1. emotional,
-- 2. physical,
-- 3. intellectual,
-- 4. social, and
-- 5. spiritual.

♦ Exercise: 5 Ways to Raise Your Awareness Level
Here's an exercise for you to raise your awareness level.
1. Recall a client who may be more dependent upon you than you would like.
2. Regarding emotional conflicts, say the first word that comes to mind to describe your emotional reaction to this person.
3. Now regarding the physical area, do a scan of your body. What is the first word that describes any physical reaction or non-verbal reaction to this person? Intellectually, state the first phrase that comes to mind regarding your thoughts about him or her.
4. Socially, answer yes or no, does this client meet any social needs of yours?
5. And finally spiritually, does this person somehow add meaning to your life? If so, describe how in one sentence.

If you feel uncomfortable with any of your answers to the preceding five questions, apply Robinson's three point ethics check: What is the context of the situation with this client who may be more dependent upon you than you would like? What are the client's goals? Is there a potential harm?

- Bemecker, S. L. (2014). Helping Clients Help Themselves: Managing Ethical Concerns When Offering Guided Self-Help Interventions in Psychotherapy Practice. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 45(2), 111-119.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Gillebaart, M., Förster, J., & Rotteveel, M. (2012). Mere exposure revisited: The influence of growth versus security cues on evaluations of novel and familiar stimuli. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(4), 699–714. 

Hemingway, M. (2003). Do no harm—An ethical dilemma and one possible way out. The Behavior Analyst Today, 4(2), 151–153. 

Kehoe, N. C. (2016). Religious professionals, ethical dilemmas, and mental illness. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 3(3), 163–166.

Twohig, M. P., Ong, C. W., Krafft, J., Barney, J. L., & Levin, M. E. (2019). Starting off on the right foot in acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy, 56(1), 16–20.

Urmanche, A. A., Oliveira, J. T., Gonçalves, M. M., Eubanks, C. F., & Muran, J. C. (2019). Ambivalence, resistance, and alliance ruptures in psychotherapy: It’s complicated. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36(2), 139–147.

Wallis, H., Bamberg, S., Schulte, M., & Matthies, E. (2021). Empowering people to act for a better life for all: Psychology’s contributions to a social science for sustainability. European Psychologist, 26(3), 184–194.

The conflict between growth and security is reflected in what five areas? To select and enter your answer go to

Section 6
Table of Contents