The concept of boundaries is found in most psychotherapy orientations in one way or another. But how can this term be understood? What use is understanding boundaries to you as a patient or client? A boundary may be thought of as a dividing line, such as, what separates you from me. Or a boundary may be thought of as a meeting place, such as where you interact with others in your family or where you meet the world as you experience it or the world as it is. Or perhaps a boundary may be understood as that which identifies us. In any case when the subject of boundaries comes up in psychotherapy it is important to explore what this term means to both you and your therapist.
Boundaries between civil states include both somewhat arbitrary and relatively fixed geologic and ethnic characteristics. Psychological boundaries similarly include characteristics which are more or less subject to change. I like to think of boundaries as similar to cell membranes that have some basic qualities but also, of necessity, are able to shift by molecular means in order to meet the needs of the body the cells are creating. Membranes and boundaries in general are both simple and complex.
Some psychotherapy is concerned with how well personal boundaries are serving you as an individual or as a member of a family or work organization. Words like “good vs. bad” or “rigid vs. flexible” may describe how well your boundaries are working or how they are getting in the way of your goals. It is important to clarify with your therapist what this means to you both. For example: is it important that you are able to assert yourself and stand your ground? Or is it important to be able to reach out to others when you communicate or need help or want to strengthen a connection? Cultural values, gender roles, trauma reactions, and intergenerational family patterns all contribute to boundaries.
Depth psychotherapy may be concerned with how your boundaries developed in early life and how they have been shaped by trauma and other life experience. Since depth psychotherapy is concerned with symbolism, you may explore boundary metaphors that come up in your dreams, art, active imagination, journaling, and discussion. Perhaps the most important boundaries in depth psychotherapy are between the conscious and unconscious aspects of mind and between interior and external experience of self and others.