Knights | Training & Development Blog

Professional Boundaries - How Do You Know Where to Stop?

Posted by Steve van de Worp on 05/05/16 11:56

You are a caring person. You would not be working in the health and social care sector if you were not. So we know you care, but do you know how much you should be caring from a professional perspective?

All professionals in health and social care who have direct contact with service users reach a certain point at which their interaction should be considered.

These are your professional boundaries.

Professional boundaries are defined as limits which protect the space between the professional’s power and the client’s vulnerability; that is they are the borders that mark the edges between a professional, therapeutic relationship and a non‑professional or personal relationship between a professional and a person in their care.

 When a boundary is crossed, it is considered that a professional is generally behaving in an unprofessional manner and misusing the power in the relationship.


The ‘zone of helpfulness’ describes the centre of a continuum of professional behaviour. This zone is where the majority of interactions between a professional and a person in their care should occur for effectiveness and the safety of that person.

‘Over involvement’ of a professional with a person in their care is to the right side of the continuum; this includes boundary crossings, boundary violations and sexual assault and inappropriate relationships with the partner or family of a person in under care.

‘Under involvement’ lies to the left side of the continuum; this includes distancing, disinterest, coldness and neglect. This is also likely to be detrimental to the person in the nurse’s care.


There are many elements that define the limits of a relationship between a professional and the individual under their care.

They include:

  • the characteristics of the consumer (including their cultural background) and the complexity of care required by them
  • the model of care, type of service or health facility and physical setting
  • the amount of clinical support and/or supervision that is available, and
  • the resources that are available, including the staff skill mix and level of access to other health care professionals.

So why is defining your professional boundaries beneficial?

Professional boundaries separate therapeutic behavior from any behavior, well intentioned or not, that could lessen the benefit of care to people, families and communities.

Boundaries give each person a sense of legitimate control in a relationship. Professional boundaries are the limits to the relationship of a professional and a person in their care which allow for a safe, therapeutic connection between them (and their nominated partners, family and friends).

The power comes from the professional position and their access to private knowledge about the person in their care. Establishing boundaries allows the professional to manage this power differential and allows a safe connection to meet the person’s needs.

Professional relationships exist only for the purpose of meeting the needs of the person in care.

To find out more now about how to define boundaries in different situations, settings and with individuals in your care and the effects boundary crossings and boundary violations have on the professional relationship, click below to see a professional boundaries training course outline.





A guide to professional boundaries. Nursing and Midwifery board Feb 2010