At the core of the Solutions Method® to treatment is a 17-week therapeutic themed curriculum. This week, our core theme for our Intensive Out-Patient and Out-Patient Programs is Personal Boundaries. We will spend the entire week exploring this important aspect of developing relational wellness. The overriding goal of this theme is to work with clients to develop skills in setting boundaries with others regarding how our clients wish to be treated and to explore parameters around personal space and safety. This tends to be a big week in the wellness journey as many clients find they do not have many experiences with healthy boundaries.
Over the course of the fifteen hours that we meet (3 hours a day for five days), we present each Solutions Method theme in the context of four key areas:
- Psycho-Education – Providing information on the theme such as definitions, origins and various points of view
- Personal awareness – Identify how it applies to the individual and which areas of their lives are impacted
- Process – Understand and explore how the information presented effects their lives and where changes may need to be made
- Skills application as an ongoing practice – Learn ways to apply the theme in everyday experiences, relationships and means to sustain the new awareness
How much space do you need?
One area we explore in depth is sensory boundaries. This is also called proprioception, or the ability to cultivate an awareness of space and things around oneself using the five senses. This gives clients the opportunity to set up their personal sense of safe space and discover how much space they need in order to feel comfortable. Clients learn to discern where they are comfortable in relationship to another person in physical space. In general we find:
- 0-2 feet for intimate relationship
- 1-3 feet for familial space
- 3-6 feet for strangers
- 6-12 feet for groups
The benefit of this work is that it helps clients to clearly identify and recognize where oneself ends and another person begins.
Throughout the week we engage in boundary exercises through visualization, role playing, experiential techniques or by physical creation using clay, pen on paper, or other art materials. The purpose is to have a hands-on experience of boundaries and to process how it feels to apply them in relationship with partners, parents, children, coworkers and friends. We want clients to have plenty of practice in establishing boundaries.
Use “I” Statements
In order to apply this principle, we offer the opportunity for role playing which helps the client conceptualize, understand and learn how to use words to set boundaries.
When using ”I” statements to express what one needs without judgement of self and others, it offers a tool for more productive communication in creating healthy boundaries. We also make time for our clients to role play with a peer who may play the role of the wiser self so they are able to hear what self acceptance and wisdom sounds like through this compassionate voice.
During this week we also explore patterns of family enabling and enmeshment as it relates to boundaries and work on skills and healthy behaviors to avoid codependent tendencies. For example, we recognize that boundaries can often be too rigid, some clients close themselves off and need assistance in learning to accept help.
We incorporate some of the tools and worksheets for our boundaries theme from Seeking Safety, an evidence-based, present-focused counseling manual that helps people who have experienced trauma and/or substance abuse. Examples include Setting Boundaries in Relationships in which clients are able to explore ‘Healthy Boundaries’, ‘Too Much Closeness’, ‘Too Much Distance’, and/or ‘Getting Out of Abusive Relationships’. A consistent tool from Seeking Safety that applies to any of our weekly themes is Grounding Techniques in which a client learns to detach themselves from emotional pain in order to increase management of their actions.
Practice New Behaviors
An essential part of the weekly program structure is teaching clients new skills in establishing boundaries and being able to practice them. Examples of these new behaviors may include, role playing in establishing physical boundaries of moving away, moving forward, sitting in a chair or putting an object between themselves and another person, such as a purse or a table. Another new behavior clients may practice is learning how to saying “no.” This sounds simple, but many people with substance abuse or a history of trauma are unable or uncomfortable to say no.
Learning to establish healthy boundaries is critical in long term healing and recovery. When we have rigid boundaries we may not allow others in emotionally and may feel lonely and isolated. Conversely, if our boundaries are too loose, we may take on more than we should or do things for others to our own detriment. Boundaries week is a very important part of our program for all of our clients.