Setting healthy boundaries in rehab in your relationships with other clients and staff is one of the most difficult, yet ultimately rewarding processes in the treatment experience. I’ve been on either sides of the fence, as a staff member and as a client, and I have experienced both with mixed results, but came out of all the experiences with renewed respect for myself and others.

Those who work in recovery understand this, and they are trained to know the boundaries that they set don’t have to be laid down like an ultimatum; they strive for offering  choices rather than threats. For instance, when explaining to a client that they have to attend a group or they wouldn’t have privileges to attend a weekend outing to a movie, rather than say: “If you don’t attend groups, you don’t get to go to the movie…”, it’s far better to offer choice: “If you attend group and follow the program, you will be able to attend the movie. If you don’t attend group, you have to remain behind. The choice is yours.” In this case, choice is offered, along with consequences, and the limits that are laid down are not couched in threats. The action of offering the choice in and of itself can be an empowering tool for the client. This also works for clients between themselves and others. The principle of setting limits is to teach, rather than reprimand, in any situation. Through this, we learn to comprehend our actions…something we didn’t always do while we were in our disease.

It’s almost instinctive to immediately personalize statements, and to view limits as threats. However, if the client can step back, even for a second, and really hear what is being said – nay, offered – they can make a much clearer decision. Taking the moment to really take note will help you identify their thoughts and position. This in turn will help you set more significant limits in your interactions, both with staff members as well as other clients. It was also develop respect.

This brings us to perhaps the most important boundary to set in the treatment environment: those between clients. Upon entering treatment, one is usually in a state of emotional weakness and confusion. The process of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol clearly weakens decision making. This, coupled with vulnerability creates a slippery slope for bonding with others. Added to this is the human need to be ‘part of’, which is one of the goals of a treatment community. It’s definitely a conundrum, but one that must be faced on a day-by-day basis. One practical rule of thumb is to take your time in affixing close, personal ties with others. Your first week of treatment is critical in this process, and your best bet is to spend more time listening, rather than talking and trying to impress others. The more time you spend observing others, and allowing them to observe you may very well be the thing that will result in meaningful relationships as time progresses.

Although close relationships in rehab seem as though they will be life-long, the reality is that more often than not, they are indeed temporary. That’s not to say they are not significant: on the contrary, a close but time-sensitive relationship may in fact be the thing that gets you through treatment successfully. But in the end, it’s you who are going through your treatment, not your new best friend. Relationships based solely on the rehab experience run the risk of being a co-dependent union that stands the risk of mutual relapse. It’s great to have friends in rehab… but it’s also okay not to be friends with everyone. Remember, a sense of community is clearly a vital ingredient in treatment, but by allowing the facility you are in provide this unity – and they will – rather than trusting your new-found (but somewhat shaky) instincts, you will end up with relationships forged in healthy, well-defined boundaries.