Exploring the edges: Boundaries and breaks

Rita Sommers-Flanagan, Deni Elliott, John Sommers-Flanagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In this article, we examine conceptual and practical issues pertaining to relationship boundaries within the helping profession. Although our focus is primarily on relationships between mental health professionals and clients, there are considerable implications for a new approach to ethically structuring and understanding the construct of "required distance" in many human-interactive professions, such as teaching, religious leadership, public administration, and others. We define the concept of boundary as applied to human relationships, provide examples of boundary breaks, and raise questions regarding how to evaluate the significance and morality issues raised by specific boundary breaks. Questions and dilemmas are presented regarding boundary setting and accidental or deliberate boundary breaking. Representative dangers present in boundary breaks are identified, and examples are provided. Possible beneficial outcomes are also discussed. Finally, a suggested protocol for assessing a proposed boundary break is provided, much of which is drawn from the work and thinking of Laura Brown, applied more generally in this article, with additions from our perspectives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-48
Number of pages12
JournalEthics and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998


  • Boundaries
  • Dual-role relationships
  • Ethical violations


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