So what is the difference between a friendship and a professional relationship?
In a friendship:
- Two people share equally in the relationship. They are mutually interested in each other's lives. They share on parallel levels. One person doesn't have to pry information out of the other when something is wrong. One person doesn't do all the work of maintaining the relationship.
- They communicate socially through some medium on a regular basis (phone, email, text). They are aware of what is going on in the other one's life.
- If they are local, they get together to socialize on a somewhat regular basis. That may be every six months or it may be every week. It depends on the relationship. They both try to make opportunities to see each other. One person doesn't do all the organizing.
- If they aren't local, they try to see each other whenever they are in each other's part of the country.
In a professional relationship:
- One person is paying the other for professional services.
- The client knows far less about the professional's life than the professional knows about the client's life.
- The relationship does not exist outside of the professional meeting spaces and appointment times.
- Communication via phone, text, and email are heavily one sided with the client relying on the assistance of the professional.
- The two people do not attend social events together or call each other just to chat about what's going on in the world.
- It is the professional’s job to keep the focus on the client’s needs and to maintain professional boundaries.
- When the client stops paying the professional, there is minimal (if any) communication or time spent together.
The advantage of maintaining a professional relationship is that it makes the relationship far less complicated. Issues of transference and countertransference can happen in professional relationships aside from psychotherapy, and they can be very difficult and painful problems to deal with. Maintaining healthy boundaries makes it far easier for the client (or patient) and the professional to work on healing the client's issues. Even when clients wish to change the nature of the relationship, it's usually not in their best interest to do so. It is the responsitibiity of the professional in that case to remind the client off the true nature of their relationship.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC