Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Putting Up Fences

When your job is to work with clients or patients, you of necessity must consider what you can and can’t do with them both during your sessions together and outside in your personal time. I am currently working with three women who are roughly my age who have all taken a somewhat different approach to this definition of professional boundaries.

First there’s Rebecca, my massage therapist. I consider her my 2-hour-a-week best friend. When I come to see her each week for a massage, we first drink a cup of tea together, while we talk and gossip about everything and everybody. There is hardly a topic that we haven’t touched on. Although our lives are so totally different, we have shared intimate experiences with each other. Outside those 2 hours each week, we exchange e-mail from time to time, mostly initiated by me, but we seldom get together to do anything on a social level. There have been a few interactions – our passover seder, my bat mitzvah, a couple of lunches together. This is Rebecca’s idea, not mine. She gave me her blog address and I read it on a regular basis because she is a fantastic writer and she makes me think. However, she feels it would be professionally inappropriate for her to read my blog. I still can’t make sense of this.

Then there’s Deborah, my internist and my music partner. She has this remarkable ability to pull down a professional curtain in the office, whereby she becomes Dr. E and I am Ms. Diskin. On my one visit to see her to get a physical, she never mentioned our music until the very end of the visit, when she said, “I’m looking forward to seeing you in a week.” Outside the office, we mostly make music together. We talk sometimes about her work as a doctor, but not very much about how it impacts me. She seems perfectly cool with this way of doing business and so am I. There is absolutely no measure of discomfort. I offered her a chance to read my blog and she declined, probably with good reason, although we just didn’t go into it.

Finally, there’s Kathryn, my psychotherapist. She maintains a strict policy of no physical contact, other than the introductory handshake. We talk about a lot of very intimate, deep subjects, but everything she knows is because I have told her in my sessions with her. She also declined my invitation to look at my blog, much preferring a face-to-face revelation of who I am. I have no reason to see Kathryn outside of our therapy time together. So this is the traditional boundary situation.

I have come to realize that I didn’t ask for any of these boundaries. They are there to make the other person feel more secure, more comfortable. In each case, I think I could perfectly well handle a relationship which was free of fences. These 3 wonderful women are an important part of my life and I cherish my time together with each of them for different reasons. I hope at some point all the fences can come down and we can just exist as friends. Boundaries get in the way of real friendship.

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