The health office will naturally become a place of solace for many students due to the fact that you are supporting them during very stressful times. Whether that is in terms of their health or seeking someone to talk to about the rigors and stressors of school, many students will begin to feel very comfortable with you. Although this is a great aspect and you want those who come into your office to feel that you are approachable, there are appropriate boundaries that must be adhered to at all times.
The health aide should refrain from any contact outside of school grounds. The relationship between a student or set of students should never surpass the boundary of an adult/child relationship. Monica Applewhite, a successful doctor of clinical social work with a master’s of science in social work, speaks commonly of this issue. Dr. Applewhite has spent 22 years studying professional boundaries and allegations of abuse. The video below speaks on the topic of, “grooming,” and how to differentiate between sexual grooming by staff and developing a wholesome relationship with a student. Dr. Applewhite explicates the differences between the two and how to not cross over into boundaries that can be deemed inappropriate or construed as exploitation. The topics she touches upon are “Wholesome Relationships vs. Sexual Grooming.” Some key words to highlight in order to differentiate between the two are compassion vs. being peers, empathy vs. sharing secrets, genuine interest vs. emotionally dependent, and available to listen vs. exclusivity. These are but a few key-words that Dr. Applewhite speaks upon in her presentation.
Maintaining professional boundaries, how we present ourselves and how we interact with others are three aspects that must be upheld at all times in the health office. Maintaining a professional decorum at all times prevents miscommunication or misconstruing interactions with students. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of at home relationships. This fact can change the way the student interacts with you and cultivate a distinctive connection. Each relationship with a student will be personal and different from the next. Granted this is the case, maintaining a wholesome relationship is always necessary. Having emotional consistency and being a strong role model for the student should be your main objective. Having dialogue that uplifts the student and encourages them to persevere in the face of adversity should be a constant in the health office. Always be available to listen to a student but do not be afraid to incorporate other resources to aid the student in whatever issues they may be facing. Creating an autonomous relationship with a student that is singular is not ideal. This leads to emotional dependency and can lead into becoming peers with a student. This is something that should be avoided. Avoid words and statements such as you’re my favorite, or you can always come talk to me, you don’t need to talk to anyone else. Involving other parties to aid students in difficult times helps further cultivate a wholesome relationship that works in favor and to the benefit to the student. This creates personal boundaries but also maintains your position as an individual on campus who can be sought out when times become unfavorable for a student.
Know the resources that are on campus, such as an on site counselor or psychiatrist and refer students in need to them. These aspects maintain the, “wholesome,” relationship that Monica Applewhite speaks upon and does not allow for the chance of grooming behavior.
For a more in-depth walk-through of appropriate boundaries at a school office, follow the links below to view Dr. Applewhite's presentations.