Why do we need Professional Boundaries Statements?

Having a professional boundaries statement provides transparency to both client and practitioner. This is common in many professions and I believe it is doubly important when working with sexuality, intimacy and consent. I have worked on this as part of my training as a Somatic Sex Educator and more recently as part of my ongoing Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diversity (GSRD) studies with Dominic Davies. You can read his Professional Boundaries Statement here.

Multiple circles of bright fireworks with a person standing in the background

With a statement, we know where the boundaries are.

We can be accountable.

There is transparency.

There is clarity.

Professional Boundaries Statement – Sue Sutherland

I am a multi-modality practitioner working with private clients and running workshops.

At the date of this statement my professional work can be summarised as:

  • Queer Conscious Sexuality Coach and Educator
  • Certified Sexological Bodyworker
  • Workshop Facilitator
  • BDSM Practitioner
  • Kinky Ritual Healer.

I am a member of The Association of Somatic and Integrative Sexologists (ASIS) which has an ethical code. This code applies specifically to the Sexological Bodywork modality.

Whilst I am a not a mainstream therapist what I offer is often regarded as therapeutic. Adopting suitable ethical boundaries and being transparent with clients about these boundaries is core to my practice.

Shared Communities

My clients include people within the communities I am professionally and personally involved with. My involvement and experience within those communities is often cited as the reason people want to work with me. This raises both professional and personal ethical dilemmas.

I actively participate in these communities:

  • Movement practices – 5 Rhythms, Movement Medicine and Open Floor
  • Poly and non-monogamous
  • BDSM and kink
  • Conscious Sexuality and Tantra

Client confidentiality

Given the multiple overlapping communities, there is an increased likelihood that I will encounter clients with shared interests within these communities. This can be concerning for all involved and I consider this regularly when making choices of events I will attend and clients I work with.

It is important to state:

  • Anything that is shared within a session or within a workshop setting, will not be shared with anyone else, unless there is an explicit agreement from a client.
  • If we meet outside of a session or a workshop, I will honour any agreement we have made in relation to this.
  • If we have not made an agreement, I may use a gesture to acknowledge you and will take your lead on how we interact.
  • I will not disclose the nature of our professional relationship.
  • You may decide to disclose that openly and I would still retain confidentiality in relation to the nature of the work.
  • I will not out anyone’s sexuality, kink or relationship interests, identity, activities or status.

Types of relationships

Relationships which are of a romantic, sexual, kinky or intimate nature raise ethical questions.

Power dynamics are everywhere and can have a particularly harmful impact in the client/practitioner roles.

Understanding when a person is regarded as a client is also key. My definitions are:

  • Potential clients – someone who may become a client; who may have contacted me to talk about working together; has not committed financially to any session work together
  • Clients – someone who has committed financially to session work together; in a programme of sessions; has indicated that they may continue to have sessions in the future
  • Ex-clients – someone who was a client and has confirmed that they have completed session work with me, and at least 12 months have passed since the last session.

Using the definitions above, I have created guidelines I follow. These will be reviewed and adjusted based on experience, insight and advice.

Potential Clients:

  • This excludes anyone who is considered family of origin; family of choice; an existing romantic or sexual partner of mine; or an existing romantic or sexual partner of a current partner
  • Anyone who I have previously been in a sexual or a romantic relationship would be considered only if at least 12 months had passed since the sexual or romantic nature of the relationship ended
  • Consideration is given to existing good friends where we both know each other well. This will be based on the type of session and only with open mutual dialogue about the shift in power dynamic, impact on friendship and nature of other mutual close relationships
  • Casual acquaintances and friends are invited to discuss the implications for embarking on a professional relationship. This includes the agreements we would make in terms of interactions outside of session work.

Clients:

  • I will not engage in any romantic activity with a client
  • There will be no form of sexual activity with a client outside of session work
  • We will discuss and agree rules if we are planning to attend the same event, play party, workshop or retreat

Ex-Clients:

  • Any interactions of a sexual or romantic nature would only be considered after at least 12 months had passed cessation of session work
  • I would discuss this in supervision and gain advice and support from peers

Creating containers

Creating containers with rules of engagement for multiple relationships has proven useful for managing the different roles, interactions and communities that both I, and clients, traverse personally and professionally.

Where there is an existing personal relationship, we would agree not to engage in any kind of social interaction during session time. This includes immediately before or after any session. Additionally, anything session related would be kept strictly for discussion during a session.

Where there is an existing professional relationship, we would openly discuss the suitability of attending any events where either person is involved in a facilitation role, prior to the event. We would gain mutual agreement on the appropriate course of action.

Working with me

If you would like to work with me and have any questions on any of the above, or indeed, anything I have not mentioned, I hope you will talk to me about them.

Regardless of whether we share communities, I want to be able to help people in a safe and considered way.

Transparency and honest, healthy communication are vital to navigating the world we live, love and play in.

With open dialogue, vulnerability and kindness we can develop trust. With trust we can explore areas previously out of reach.

Regardless of your gender, sexuality, relationship status or experience you are welcome to contact me and share any feedback, questions and concerns with me.

Sue Sutherland – 3rd November 2019