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BROKEN Systems

Our arguments are based on the premise that we have broken systems when it comes to professional boundaries, systems that are often focused on an approach to practice that creates distance between professionals and service users, between professionals, and between different services. A shortage of resources, ever-expanding bureaucratic processes and a tick-box approach to ethics in organisations has encouraged professional cultures to develop that no longer focus on the power of relationships in supporting change. Here we propose some questions for practitioners to consider when thinking about their approach to professional boundaries and we offer a variety of ways they might be able to challenge those broken systems.


Boundary experiences – It is important to understand a person’s understanding, experience, and attitude towards different types of boundaries to effectively work with them.

  •         What is the service user’s experience of boundaries?

  •         How does that inform how you understand and approach boundaries with them?


Relationships – Building effective and sustainable relationships is a key component on any type of professional practice.

  • How does your approach and attitude to boundaries build better relationships?

Offering something different.

What limits does your organisation place on professional boundaries? How does this restrict your practice?

  • What can’t you do that you would like to? Is it possible to gain support from your organisation for managing boundaries differently? If not, is there another organisation, person or service that could offer this instead?

Kindness and Compassion.

  • How have your boundaries been informed by compassion and kindness?

  • What is the impact of your boundary decisions on the people you work with?

Extra Mile.

  • What would it look like to go ‘the extra mile’ with a service user?

  • What difference would this make to their life?


Need – What service user needs aren’t being fulfilled because of your (or your organisation’s) approach to boundaries? How can you justify your choice based on the client’s needs?

Challenging BROKEN Systems

Looking for innovative ways to practice within broken systems can be challenging for the individual practitioner. Here we outline some ideas of how you may be able to develop this practice.  

  • Developing a discussion group in your organisation or locality – this can be within teams or across organisations. A safe space that can be used to explore practice and organisational decisions.

  • External supervision – see if your organisation could fund a supervisor external to the organisation who could support the emotional impact of your role and difficult boundary decisions (we know this type of service is used by many different organisations to support their staff).

  • Share the resources from this website with managers and colleagues to support organisation and systemic change (as well as support your practice decisions).

“She stepped over boundaries and reached into my world. She reached me in a way no one before had cared to try. It was more than a job to her and I sensed that”
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