Knowing Your Limitations as a Counselor

Counselors should convey the limits of confidentiality to clients.
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Counselors often choose their careers because of a desire to help others. The nature of counseling, with its sharing of confidences and trust building, can create close ties between counselors and clients. However, the relationship between counselors and patients must observe strict professional boundaries. Knowing your limitations as a counselor can help maintain your own emotional health while observing the ethical concerns of the field.


    Confidentiality is the idea that what is shared between counselor and client remains private. There are limitations to this rule, however. Counselors must break confidentiality in some circumstances, for example, when clients state that they plan to harm themselves or others or when abuse is present. Counselors need to violate confidentiality in these situations and report to appropriate authorities. Limitations might differ slightly with regard to minor clients, depending on state law. Some states protect minors who discuss their struggles with drugs or alcohol. Counselors must express limitations of confidentiality to clients.

Clinic Rules

    Some limitations as a counselor will be established by the medical facility, health clinic or organization offering counseling services. These limits must be observed by counselors employed by these facilities. For example, the University of New Mexico Student Health and Counseling does not provide services to students seeking counseling who are currently involved in litigation or court cases, including drug-related or alcohol-related cases. Sexual assault cases might be an exception to this rule. Additionally, services exclude medical or psychological evaluations for disability protections.


    Counselors must observe limits in the types of relationships established with clients, according to the American Counseling Association. Counselors may not pursue relationships with clients or other individuals associated with clients, such as friends or family members. Before engaging in a relationship with previous clients, counselors must allow a time period of five years to elapse and then complete an evaluation of whether a relationship would be exploitative or unhealthy at that time. Counselors might decide to attend certain types of events, with a client’s permission or invitation, because of potential emotional benefits for the clients. Examples might include a wedding, graduation or hospital visit to a client’s family member. Before attending these events, counselors must evaluate the potential negative outcomes of these visits.

Counselor Issues

    Counselors should recognize their own limitations based on previous experiences or emotional struggles. Professionalism must be maintained so that counselors do not become emotionally involved or angry when working with cases involving child abuse, for example, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine article, “Therapeutic Issues for Counselors.” Counselors should consider the impact of their own previous substance or abuse experiences when working with clients experiencing similar situations.

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