Using a Constructivist Grounded Theory approach (Charmaz, 2006), this research examined the social construct of the “professional boundary” necessary in mental health therapeutic work and the problem of professional boundary violations in the therapeutic relationship. Thirteen mental health clinicians from various professional disciplines commonly found in mental health clinical practice responded to three specific questions designed to gain an understanding about how clinicians gauge the differences between minor and serious boundary violations. The three questions facilitated further exploration of boundary violations specifically to explore the difficulties of determining what is and what is not considered a boundary violation often resulting in polarised views or “black and white” descriptions and opinions. However many shades of grey were also revealed during the interviews.
Almost all participants rated intimacy or sexual contact with a client or an ex-client as being a serious boundary violation, on the other hand there was a great deal of variety in the examples offered as minor boundary violations. Whilst the “Black” is clearly defined by clinicians in this research, the “White” only seemed to create more “Grey” areas, with descriptions of behaviours that fell into the Grey area being more difficult to define.