The concept of boundaries in clinical practice: theoretical and risk-management dimensions

Am J Psychiatry. 1993 Feb;150(2):188-96. doi: 10.1176/ajp.150.2.188.


The authors systematically examine the concept of boundaries and boundary violations in clinical practice, particularly as they relate to recent sexual misconduct litigation. They selectively review the literature on the subject and identify critical areas that require explication in terms of harmful versus nonharmful boundary issues short of sexual misconduct. These areas include role; time; place and space; money; gifts, services, and related matters; clothing; language; self-disclosure and related matters; and physical contact. While broad guidelines are helpful, the specific impact of a particular boundary crossing can only be assessed by careful attention to the clinical context. Heightened awareness of the concepts of boundaries, boundary crossings, and boundary violations will both improve patient care and contribute to effective risk management.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Malpractice
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Psychiatry / standards*
  • Psychotherapy / standards*
  • Risk Management
  • Role
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Social Behavior
  • Spatial Behavior
  • Time Factors