Dealing with boundary issues in therapy

kirbs

Learning
Hey everyone, I've been in therapy for 4 months and something occured a few weeks ago that left me pretty shook and wondering if anyone else might've experienced the same or have so tips how to deal with it

Basically, a few weeks ago I sent my T a short message after a session. I said in the message that some stuff in the therapy session had triggered me and that I'd appreciate it if she could call, but that it would also be ok to wait till the next session.

She called me the next day but the conversation felt really tense. We talked about the thing in the session that triggered me and that put me at ease (was unrelated to this all, I had previous T in which my therapist sent my doctor info she shouldn't tho I talked it over), but also mentioned in the session that I shouldn't take it personal if she wouldn't have the chance to respond to messages in the future, and also that she hoped I'd develop my trust outside of therapy si I wouldn't feel the need to contact her outside of therapy and would feel good enough to wait till the next session

The next session she mentioned we'd need clear boundaries about contact going forward which shook me since, with all the different things I thought might influence my therapy (again I trust issues) the message I sent wasn't one of them. We talked about what had happened but I was really stuck in my feelings and everything I said seemed only to push my therapist away more which also unnerved me since I really felt I was losing control

After the 2nd session we talked about it, I've since read up about boundaries and realized what had happened, namely that (a) we should've established boundaries upfront and (b) I already crossed her boundary without knowing it which is what kind of made this more difficult to deal with than if we'd talk up front (that's my conclusion so far anyway)

Right now she is on vacation so I won't see her in a few weeks but I'm not sure how to go about this issue. I already know that I can respect the rules she set out (only call if I want her to call me back, and message if it can wait so she won't have to call me based on that) and that is no problem since I never felt much of a need to contact her between sessions anyway (this is the first message I shot since we started therapy). However the trust issue is something I feel really affected in, I've been in multiple therapies and me sending that message at the time was the last thing I ever thought would cause any issues (though I maybe could've anticipated a bit, she sometimes seemed nervous contacting me out of sessions) and it had made me feel really uncertain about being open to her easily since the last time it caused all of the above

Any thoughts, anyone ever dealt with this before? Funnily enough there's some irony I feel in me being wholly scared therapy would be terminated because of all sorts of things (unrelated to the above but I have trust issues) and the thing that has perturbed me the most was sending a freaking message over the client portal. Any ideas or advice is appreciated, I really liked working with her aside this so it would be great to mend this somehow
 
I think the contact outside of the sessions is a minefield. And yes I experience that too. And also the wonder of what the boundary is. i also understand your reaction and feelings about it all. As I Am sure your T does.

Boundaries are there to keep us safe. Holding onto that might help navigate this.

My T says that if a client emails her, she will respond, and that she takes care over her responses. But contact outside of a session is not something she encourages. It’s there for a crisis.

Your T isn’t going to terminate you over this. What you have done is entirely common. Now you know the boundary, and that’s good. Sometimes we assume things, and T’s assume things and then we need to talk about it as our assumptions aren’t always aligned, essentially it is all ok!

talk it over with her as much as you need to. my T and I talk about email still. It’s been 3 years. and it still brings up issues for me! Like I say, contact outside the session is a minefield.
 
the lion's share of my own therapy happened before the advent of the internet, but i have wondered about this very issue as i have watched the psychiatric field go digital. in my pre-internet therapy, contact with therapists outside therapy was strictly taboo. i had support peers who crossed the street when they saw their therapists in public rather than risk violating that taboo. privacy laws prohibiting contact between professionals concerning patient welfare were still forming and, believe it or not, professionals often worked together. i still don't know the new normals in these protocols, but they have most certainly changed and nobody is available to explain them to me. i guess i'd **get it** better if i spent more time on social media.

thank you, @kirbs for the clues. i've been wondering. . . when corona crowned on some major transitions in my life, i had just made first contact in the renewed therapist shopping and you know what corona did to that wasted effort. post corona therapist shopping is more confusing than ever. strike out city. . .
 
and it had made me feel really uncertain about being open to her easily since the last time it caused all of the above
It feels uncomfortable and possibly even threatening. That makes sense. She has a lot of very personal information so trust is paramount.

One of the things that a good therapist will do is demonstrate a heathy relationship. What it looks like in the real world. It can feel completely foreign, which tends to trigger our trust issues, but it can be incredibly helpful in the long term.

The opportunity here is to experience a relationship where a person is able to communicate with you assertively (and respectfully), and set healthy boundaries. Boundaries that will be fair, consistent, and actually enhance the relationship.

If you can stick with this, even though it’s really uncomfortable right now, this is your T demonstrating what a trustworthy and respectful relationship should look like: assertive communication about needs, setting appropriate boundaries, and being fair and consistent in the way they enforce those boundaries.

The thing that your T is doing is something you can then go and replicate in the real world. Because if you stick with her even though she’s set these boundaries, she has the opportunity to demonstrate to you how helpful boundaries can be when done right - how they can be used to enhance and protect the relationship, rather than destroy it.

The exercise in trust here isn’t whether you should trust a person who feels the need to set boundaries. The trust is about whether they then stick to those boundaries, communicate assertively, and are fair and predictable in the way they deal with you having these boundaries in place.

You got this. This T sounds like a good egg:)
 
This is one of those things that can BUILD trust over time.

You cross a boundary.
She lets you know / the two of you discuss.
Life goes on.
No harm, no foul, all’s well.

^^^ learning NORMAL interactions, with normal people, when a boundary is crossed. Discuss. Agree. Cool! Carry on….

…Instead of the wild array of abusive, bizarre, toxic, manipulative, volatile, over/under-reactive, moving target no-win, codependent, emotional hostage taking, guilt trips, weaponized reactions people often come to expect in a wide variety of trauma backgrounds.
 
Oh how I relate to where you are now!

I went through a whole saga with my T (I experienced the saga not him).

I'm shorton words at the moment but thought I'd send a link to the thread if you want to read through.

It's pretty long. But start from post #9 if you don't want to begin from the start (as the original issue doesn't start out about contact between sessions).

The others here really helped guide me through what felt catastrophic for me and very threatening. I learned alot.


(Not sure if that will work? Let me know if not).

Last thing to say is my T said during this process that I didn't need to worry about whether I was pushing boundaries as it was his job to put them down clearly not mine. That REALLY helped take the pressure off. Keep that in mind, if your T is crystal clear with you it will make it easier for you to understand what's ok and what's not. If she's not clear, ask her specific questions so you can understand.

Know you aren't alone in how you feel and that can work through this all. And you haven't done anything wrong in this dynamic.
 
Thank you for the comments all, I've read through most of them and will read through the remainder of the thread posted above

I find it really difficult dealing with this. Part may be that some events happened last years which really damaged my trust and I find myself just being incredibly upset easily, the phone call in question just did everything to trigger that unfortunately.

Right now since we have a session in a couple of weeks I know I'll (a) say that I'll respect her boundaries going forward and also (b) feel at least I understand now WHY everything hurt my so much during and after the phone call in question and will be able to convey that. I am just in such a fragile state (also kind of isolated due to other factors) that this is hard but I really like her and want to give it my all. I do see this will probably be a loooot of sessions going forward though (which is fine since my insurance covers all of it which really helps at least in that respect, lol)
 
Well after 3 weeks finally met up with my T again, didn't feel half bad but am still struggling with how to continue.

We talked about what had happened again and I started talking about wanting to respect boundaries etc. but as soon as I broached the subject she said she didn't feel like I crossed her boundaries at all which, which I was kind of banking on that lol. She said no boundaries were crossed and also that she viewed the exchange as an interaction. I asked if she thought I did anything wrong and she said that that wasn't the case which was a big relief and I'm glad I asked that (thanks for the tips).

However, now I'm still a bit confused on how to continue. She views this thing as just an interaction in which she has her experience and I do and we can talk about it but on the other hand I still feel startled by how it played out. Also, doesn't help me that the boundaries aren't really clear. I remember her saying 2 sessions ago that she wanted me to call her office if I required telephone contact, or otherwise send a message if I DON'T need a follow-up by call but last session she said it was up to me to determine the urgency before contacting her outside of therapy hours which I still find confusing.

I just note that I'm skittish on contacting her again outside of therapy hours, which I don't even usually do a lot but the whole exchange left me fazed. She also said she wasn't angry on the phone during the convo that triggered all this but it did feel really crap on my end of the conversation so now I'm all like gaaaaaah I don't know what to do.

We have another couple of sessions scheduled but I'm really finding it difficult like understanding her in this. But all I know right now is it feels like a similar exchange might happen which makes me feel afraid about opening up. Also last session when we started I said I thought it'd be important to talk about this thing and she said something like "I already stated how I view the issue, but I'm willing to hear you out" and I notice I just feel like crap when she says that now (she used to also now and then interject with something like that but I never minded it before but since the above played out that feels different)

Really hoping to find some common ground but it's so difficult 😩 though I will say I feel A LOT more calm in this whole thing since we started so that's good at least
 
I totally understand how this feels. I get caught up in this. but…there is a way through. Promise! I think by working through transference and what you are projecting.
However, now I'm still a bit confused on how to continue. She views this thing as just an interaction in which she has her experience and I do and we can talk about it but on the other hand I still feel startled by how it played out. Also, doesn't help me that the boundaries aren't really clear. I remember her saying 2 sessions ago that she wanted me to call her office if I required telephone contact, or otherwise send a message if I DON'T need a follow-up by call but last session she said it was up to me to determine the urgency before contacting her outside of therapy hours which I still find confusing.
My take on this, is that she has given you a structure: needing a response, go through the office. not needing a response, go through her, she, like all T’s, is handing the control of when you need support to you, and the responsibility of you knowing how urgent it is. What I take from that is, her office will contact her by all means if you contact the office, and she will respond. If you contact her directly, she may or may not see it and may miss it, so best to leave that as a space to express something (sometimes there is huge relief in just expressing it rather than needing a response). Does that help the confusion? She’s giving you a framework and putting you in control of how you utilise it,
She also said she wasn't angry on the phone during the convo that triggered all this but it did feel really crap on my end of the conversation so now I'm all like gaaaaaah I don't know what to do.
Take her at her word. She wasn’t angry. Why would she lie to you? No benefit to your therapy for her to lie. The transference here is that you perceived her to be angry and struggle to take her at her word, as your feeling that she was angry and the emotions it evoked in you are very familiar. Was this how things were with family or in your past? And is this negative transference to your T? I did this a few times with my T, and it’s so painful. But really really good to explore in therapy.
But all I know right now is it feels like a similar exchange might happen which makes me feel afraid about opening up
This fear of the expected is also maybe negative transference. I have found more peace when I can shift my perspective on things like this.
I already stated how I view the issue, but I'm willing to hear you out" and
Whilst blunt, what I am taking from what she said is that she has explained this. It makes me wonder if she is missing the negative transference? Or maybe she is trying to get you to see that she has explained and she’s there. For me, it’s not so much the boundary and the explanation, but the transference and meaning behind all this for you that needs the conversation.
 
Also last session when we started I said I thought it'd be important to talk about this thing and she said something like "I already stated how I view the issue, but I'm willing to hear you out" and I notice I just feel like crap when she says that now (she used to also now and then interject with something like that but I never minded it before but since the above played out that feels different)

It stinks and it's hard but this is worth talking about. There's a reason you are feeling how you do. It doesn't mean you or your T are wrong. Talking about it may well be a launching point into underlying issues. It may just be a way of you experiencing uncomfortable interactions in a safe environment. Either way, it's an opportunity for growth.
 
So a week since my last message, I'd posted a reply before but it got eaten by the server outage

Take her at her word. She wasn’t angry. Why would she lie to you? No benefit to your therapy for her to lie. The transference here is that you perceived her to be angry and struggle to take her at her word, as your feeling that she was angry and the emotions it evoked in you are very familiar. Was this how things were with family or in your past? And is this negative transference to your T? I did this a few times with my T, and it’s so painful. But really really good to explore in therapy.
I think you may be right. I reread my original message that I wrote the other day and it suddenly "clicked" since I said in my original message, while phone contact wasn't necessary, it was important to talk about for me so I think that is why she called to me. What set me off most is that in previous therapies therapists were really easy with calling (they'd schedule calls in between if I felt I needed it and the like), and when she said to me the phone saying like "don't take it personal if I don't have the time to respond" "hope you feel like you have more trust and we can discuss this during sessions" and I DIDN'T KNOW they usually only reserve phone calls for emergencies I totally took it the wrong way since I thought it was about my message and interpreted her being assertive as anger (which, I know, probably says something about me). It's just she didn't say those words about calls and emergency contact etc. and I was initially confused and interpreted it wholly different.

Whilst blunt, what I am taking from what she said is that she has explained this. It makes me wonder if she is missing the negative transference? Or maybe she is trying to get you to see that she has explained and she’s there. For me, it’s not so much the boundary and the explanation, but the transference and meaning behind all this for you that needs the conversation.
I think this also may be right. Weirdly looking back I can TOTALLY understand her reactions and see it in a different light, but again I didn't understand WHY she was saying the stuff on the phone about talking about this stuff in sessions which totally clouded my frame of reference. Also her other actions make a lot of sense. It is very weird I feel like there's 2 different viewpoints I'm just having trouble reconciling but I can see how when she said she wasn't angry, it wasn't about boundaries what she meant.

There's another session up ahead tomorrow but problem is I wrote like a lengthy message about how this is a boundary issue how I needed her to admit to being peeved etc and how I didn't know how to proceed and only AFTER realized her thought process 😩 I feel so stupid so I sent her another message saying like "ignore my first, I'd like to talk about it" but feel a bit ridiculous. She sent back a message and was really supportive of my sharing my thoughts which was nice at least. I'm still reeling from the whole thing so hoping we can work it out but it seems crazy kind of how I so misinterpreted her thought process (but on the other hand I still feel it to an extent? it's confusing)
 
That's really impressive processing and reflection. And as much as it causes us turmoil going through all this, if your T is anything like mine: they love all this! They see this stuff as healing as it brings up past stuff for us and we project onto them. So they like us to unpick it and explore all this and what it means for other relationships.
So, no need to feel stupid. It's all part of the process.
 
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