I work in the human services industry and I work closely with vulnerable individuals in the community who are often isolated- family are distant and friends are few (if there are any).

Recently, I was discussing with a good friend of mine about the pitfalls of this industry and how we attempt to maintain professional relationships and boundaries in an industry about people. We discussed about how some of the people I work with have to be reminded that staff are not friends and that we are paid to be there- as actioned by management.

My dear friend frowned and looked visibly disappointed. She too works in the industry and stated that she considered the people that she support as friends, like ‘work friends’. She asked me to consider this: staff and service users can still be friends, it just means it’s a different kind of friend. The kind of friend that she is with her clients is different to the friend she is with me.

She also asked me to consider this- Paul is supported by 4 paid support staff, he sees them all the time, they know him and he trusts them. He also has a close friend; Barry. Right now, Paul can say that he has 5 friends, however, if the staff all turned around and say that none of them are his friends and that they are paid staff, then he will only have 1 friend left. She said, if one aspect of our job is to include others and make them feel valued, then shouldn’t valuing them as individuals and encouraging friendship something we should do?

After our chat, I had more time to think about it and I do agree with some points she mentioned. Yes, we have to be professional, but to dismiss someone’s view of staff as a friend is, there is no other way to put it, sad.

At no point am I dismissing the need for professional boundaries to be highlighted and maintained, it possibly is wise to acknowledge that someone has elevated one to a status of ‘friend’. Be honoured that they have approved the friendship.

If being the generic friend means to look out for someone, being trusted with important information, being there for someone, doesn’t that mean that most paid support staff are some what friends?

This is something that I want to put more thought into. Any comments or feedback welcomed.


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