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The boundaries of the social work relationship revisited: towards a connected, inclusive and dynamic conceptualisation

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 15:33 authored by Patrick O'Leary, Ming-Sum Tsui, Gillian RuchGillian Ruch
In all professional relationships, there are power imbalances and the potential for discrimination and exploitation. To safeguard against such violations, the concept of professional boundaries is advocated, yet the construction of these boundaries is presented as if it is rudimentary for everyone. Historically, the professional boundaries created within the field of social work have been influenced by other professions, most notably medicine. Integral to these traditional models are professional boundaries that separate the professional from the client and concentrate on what the boundary is, rather than why it is needed and how it is created. As a consequence, the professional boundaries within social work have become increasingly incongruent with developments in the profession's unique theoretical and value base. Despite the widespread acceptance of the importance of professional boundaries, scant attention has been paid to their construction and the degree to which they reflect the ethos of the social work profession. This paper examines professional boundaries and presents an alternative conceptualisation of boundaries in social work relationships. The model emphasises connection rather than separation, advocating a process that encourages mutuality. Implications for social work research, education and practice are also examined.


Publication status

  • Published


British Journal of Social Work




Oxford University Press





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Department affiliated with

  • Social Work and Social Care Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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