The Counselor-Client Relationship: Establishing Boundaries and Managing Expectations

The counselor-client relationship remains just that: a relationship. And many times the dynamics of that relationship remain ever changing and no two counselor-client relationships are exactly the same. Hopefully this article can help you better understand the unique dynamics of this partnership.

Who is in control? Does that counselor maintain power over the client, of does the client maintain power over the therapist? In other words, how is power distributed? What should the counselor expect from his or her client? What do appropriate boundaries between the counselor and the client actually look like the in so-called “real world?”

Many of these questions do not lend themselves to a single, absolute answer. That said, however, they are questions worth asking because they shed much needed light on the dynamics of the counselor-client relationship.


As put above: What can a client expect of the counselor?

The counselor clearly provides a service to her or her client, and that relationship begins on the first session. It remains important, then, for both the client and the counselor to have expectations. And although it remain outside the scope of this article to tease out exactly what those expectations are, counselor-client expectations must be laid out early on in the relationship.

Expectations, too, are most effective if they laid out formally; in other words, verbalizing one’s expectations remains a good way to establish—to put is simply—“what’s what.” Then, both the counselor and the client can begin the therapy process.


Like establishing expectations, establishing boundaries remains a vital part of the counselor-client relationship. Boundaries in this context usually mean areas where reasonable and appropriate exploration can be administered. In other words, certain things are clearly off limits. To use a clear example, if a romantic relationship were to develop between the counselor and the client, this would clearly violate a number of professional and ethical codes of conduct (and perhaps legal), and the counselor can be held liable. But in most instants, establishing boundaries isn’t so dramatic.

In most cases, establishing boundaries in the counselor-client relationship means establishing appropriate areas of therapeutic analysis, areas where both the client and counselor remain comfortable.

Further Questions Regarding the Counselor-Client Relationship

Although we’ve only begun to touch upon this area of inquiry, expectations and boundaries within the context of the counselor-client relationship remains vital to the success of that relationship. And although many types of professional-client relationships exist across the professional spectrum, such as in the legal, education and medical felids, in a therapeutic context, the counselor-client relationship has its own set of unique challenges. Because of this, as the professional, the counselor remains in control of setting the parameters of where the relationship with the client will go. Of course, the client, too, has responsibility.

Some questions to consider are: Where does the counselor’s responsibility end and the client’s responsibility begin? What kind of boundaries clearly establish that cut off line? Finally, counselor-client rapport remains an influential factor as to whether the counselor-client relationship will be successful.


Martin, C., Vaught, W., and Solomon, R. (2010). Ethics Across the Professions.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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