Personal Boundaries with Clients
By Vicki Escudé, M.A., M.C.C.
(Note: Send your Ethics questions for clarification to Vicki@excellentcoach.com , and please include the number of the ethics code relating to your question.)
An ICF Professional Coach agrees to practice the ICF Professional Core Competencies and pledges accountability to the ICF Code of Ethics.
As coaches, we provide a personal service to our clients. To preserve and maintain the professionalism of our coaching relationships, we must be mindful of ethics that address personal boundaries. Coaches can look to these codes for guidance in maintaining appropriate, professional behavior. What does a coach do when the boundaries seem to be breached?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is it appropriate to hug my clients?
- Are there ethical issues related to coaching a spouse, partner or significant other?
- If my client and I decide to have a relationship, how does this affect our coaching relationship?
- What are the considerations involved with attending social events with clients?
The answers to these questions are below. The following answers are quoted from the ICF Code of Ethics Frequently Asked Questions, used with permission of the ICF:
Code #17: I will be responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern any physical contact I may have with my clients or sponsors.
Code #17 addresses the issue below:
Sample issue: Is it OK to give my clients a brief hug after our meetings?
Answer: The coach is responsible for setting and respecting culturally appropriate physical boundaries, which includes sensitivity to the client’s boundaries and expectations. If the client initiates, the Coach may choose to reciprocate or not. The Coach may not initiate the hug.
Code #18: I will not become sexually intimate with any of my current clients or sponsors.
Code #18 addresses the two issues below:
Sample issue: Does this mean I cannot coach my spouse, partner, or significant other?
Answer: Whereas coaching your spouse may offer opportunities for conflicts of interest, as well as confidentiality problems, it is fine to do so if you have clear boundaries and clarify your relationship as a coach and client before you start. Whatever sexual activity exists before the relationship may continue.
[In terms of developing a new intimate relationship with a client] A new level of intimacy may not be initiated during the coaching relationship. For example the coaching relationship must end if you agree to date someone you are coaching in response to their request for the same.
Sample issue: If my client invites me out to a social engagement, may I accept?
Answer: Accepting the engagement would be appropriate if
- The coach and client both think that the coaching relationship would not be impaired.
- The coach can remain objective in the coaching meetings.
If, however, the coach finds it difficult to maintain the boundaries of a coaching relationship with the client, then the coach has the option to terminate the relationship and refer the client to another coach. A good guideline is that whatever the nature of the relationship prior to beginning coaching is where it should remain throughout the duration of the coaching arrangement.
If you have an ethics question that you would like to have answered, please let me know and I will initiate discussion and hopefully help you find clarity. Your questions will enhance our professional progress!
VICKI ESCUDE, M.A., MCC, Mentor Coach, is a pioneer in the coaching profession, promoting the professionalism of coaching to several areas of the country for over 15 years. She was among the first coach educators for UTD, Success Unlimited Network®, LLC (SUN), and Strategic Executive Coaching Alliance (SECA). Escudé served on the Board of Directors for the ICF, and was Board Liaison to the Ethics Committee. She has subsequently been a member of the Ethics Committee for several years, and was on the subcommittee to develop the ICF Ethics’ FAQs. Escudé has an active executive coaching and corporate coach training and mentoring practice, and is author of several coaching books: Getting Everything You Want! Coaching for Mastery; Create Your Day with Intention in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and the Fast-Track Leader series published by Get-to-the-Point Books.