Professional Boundaries Re-Visited: 3 Reasons to Pause and Self-Reflect | NASW Member Voices

Jan 20, 2023

woman enjoys sunshine in the city

By Sarah Meisinger MSW, LICSW

For social workers, returning to in-person interactions with clients, colleagues, and the community is shining a spotlight on our need to adapt and adjust yet again. Our ways of being with others is forever changed and I am wondering how everyone is holding up?  As social workers, we tend to be a nimble group, but even for the most flexible, the pandemic has tested us.


I will generalize and suggest that being with and among people is what draws us to the profession and considering all we’ve been through together during the past few years, is also a solid reason to re-visit our practices when it comes to professional boundaries.

1: Returning to IRL (In Real Life) Practice is Tricky

Many of us will continue to engage in practice in a hybrid fashion – the door to Zoom rooms has been opened and isn’t going to close any time soon, if ever. Returning to in-person interactions and being with people reminds us of the value of engagement and the energy that’s generated when we are physically together.

Boundaries are influenced by this re-entry and re-creation of how we engage in our work. Paying attention to how we’re feeling, perceiving, and approaching ourselves, our colleagues, and our clients is critical to clear, professional, and flexible boundaries.  It may require us to revisit the Code of Ethics and to re-establish our professional way of being in our practice.

2: Burnout is (Still) a Reality

The degree and intensity of burnout for many social workers runs along a broad spectrum. Pre-pandemic, our profession was all too familiar with the reality of burnout; some may say we coined the term. When we experience the nagging, exhausted, spark-less feelings about our work, it is imperative that we consider the impact not only on ourselves, but our clients, communities, and our profession. 

Self-reflection about how we are engaging in the work will influence our decisions about boundary expression. If we’re feeling out of balance, is it related to the ways our work lives have changed and blurred even further with our personal lives? Perhaps creating limits and space between work and home is a place to re-start.

3: Self-Care Requires Intentional Boundary Setting

Now an official, ethical value in our profession, self-care remains as relevant as it always has been and a practice that if approached intentionally, will benefit how our boundaries are implemented in our work and personal lives.

Sarah Meisinger MSW, LICSW is Director of Field Education for the Department of Social Work at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She is the author of the book Exploring Boundaries in Social Work Practice: The Space In Between, (Cognella Academic Publishing, 2021).


Disclaimer: The National Association of Social Workers invites members to share their expertise and experiences through Member Voices. This blog was prepared by Sarah Meisinger, MSW, LICSW, in her personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the view of the National Association of Social Workers.