Who are we protecting?

Exploring counsellors’ understanding and experience of boundaries.



boundaries, defensive practice, client safety, self-protection


The concept of boundaries is a term often used within counselling and psychotherapy literature. However, there is a paucity of research into how useful and meaningful it is as a concept, for counselling and psychotherapy practice. This study researched how counsellors understand and experience boundaries within their counselling practice.  Seven participants, who were all qualified and practicing counsellors, were interviewed about their understanding and experience of boundaries. These interviews were transcribed and then analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Analysis identified two superordinate themes: Protection and Safety; and The Structure of Therapy. This paper explores the first superordinate theme, which is further divided into two subordinate themes, which are: Protection of Self and Protection of Other. Findings indicate that there was a lack of awareness around boundaries, with some participants describing defensive responses to some boundary issues. However, participants also described using boundaries to restrict, limit and defend themselves when working with clients, and they identified this as necessary for their own safety and security.  This study recommends that therapists should engage reflexively with boundaries within their practice, to ensure practice is client focused.

Author Biographies

  • Dr Peter Blundell, Liverpool John Moores University

    Dr Peter Blundell is Senior Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at Liverpool John Moores University. Peter is a BACP and NCS registered Person-Centred/Experiential counsellor/psychotherapist, he currently works in private practice in Liverpool and online. Peter’s research and teaching interests include boundaries in counselling and psychotherapy, harm in therapy, power and anti-oppressive practice.

  • Dr Lisa Oakley, Chester University

    Dr Lisa Oakley is Associate Professor Applied Psychology at Chester University. She is a Chartered psychologist and a member of the British Psychological Society.  She is currently chair of the national working group for child abuse linked to faith or belief. Her main teaching areas are cognitive development, safeguarding of children, qualitative research methods and the psychology of religion and diversity.

  • Dr Kathy Kinmond

    Dr Kathy Kinmond is a Chartered Psychologist, and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and Accredited member of the BACP. Kathy has over twenty years’ experience as a Lecturer and researcher in Psychology and Abuse. 







How to Cite

Who are we protecting? Exploring counsellors’ understanding and experience of boundaries . (2022). European Journal for Qualitative Research in Psychotherapy, 12. https://ejqrp.org/index.php/ejqrp/article/view/137