Boundaries in the Guide Seat

What is the guide seat? 

 

The guide seat is a metaphorical term for the position of the guide and also quite literally refers to the position a “guide” assumes with a client. It is a place of great responsibility; a position that is to be taken with humility, presence, self-knowing and empathy. To take the “guide seat” is a sacred responsibility. At CCM, we do not take this role lightly. Client care is and should always be paramount. To practice good client care, the guide must know themselves, be familiar with their triggers and biases, understand their “window of tolerance” (and recognize when they might be out of it), and have, at the very least, a moderate understanding of projection, transference, countertransference, and power dynamics. The guide should approach this work knowing that the process of healing in this context is relational and that they have as much potential to harm as they do to foster healing. The “guide seat” is one of assuming responsibility for the care of the client, first and foremost. The guide seat exists to support the healing potential each client has within themselves. 

 

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously…Boundaries give us the space to do the work of loving ourselves. They might be, actually, the first and fundamental expression of self-love. They also give us the space to love and witness others as they are, even those that have hurt us.

― Prentis Hemphill

Boundaries in the Miriam Webster dictionary are defined as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.” In this case the limit is emotional, relational as well as practical. While boundaries might appear to be creating distance between individuals, they are, in fact, a necessary component for closeness and safety. Because they cannot be seen, they must be articulated, and most importantly in working with expanded states, mutually acknowledged and agreed upon in advance of a session. It is the responsibility of the guide to provide a clear articulation of boundaries, to familiarize themselves with their clients boundaries, and in some cases, to help them establish them. It is always the guide’s responsibility to honor them. 

 

Why are they important?

Healthy boundaries help us to feel safe. A sense of safety on the part of the client is a key aspect to a meaningful and healing experience. In working with expanded states, boundaries have an especially important role in providing a safe container for the work to unfold. This kind of work innately puts the client in a vulnerable position, making the importance of boundaries essential.  In a guide/client container in which boundaries are not established and respected there is greater possibility for harm, whether intentional on the part of the guide or not. The client being in contact with the most vulnerable part of themselves is, paradoxically, part of the healing profundity of this modality.  Establishing boundaries, articulating them and most importantly , adhering to them, provides a safe container for the client in which their vulnerability is respected and held with the highest regard. 

Additionally, it is important for a guide to be able to differentiate a healthy boundary from a guard or defense and to develop non-judgmental curiosity about this difference.  Boundaries represent an edge. An experienced, well-trained guide will possess discernment about how to work with a client around those edges; not to coerce, push or persuade, but to listen, ask and yield to the clients experience. In some cases an edge can be therapeutic to challenge; never without prior and ongoing consent and with full participation of the client in exploring their edges. The guide should always act out of deep respect for the client, and act without their own agenda for the clients process.  Boundaries can and do change, it is the role of the guide to remain nimble in that unfolding and dedicated to the well-being of the client. 

 

How do we establish them? 

Discovering where our own and someone else’s boundaries are, voicing them, and standing firm in them is work. Many of us struggle with this in our day-to-day lives, let alone in the sacred (and sometimes highly charged) container of therapeutic work.  It takes self-knowing, self respect and respect for the other. It takes humility, it takes honesty. Sometimes the act of stating a boundary and having it honored can be its own healing experience. Since clients often come to this work unfamiliar with parts of themselves, it is the responsibility of the guide to help the client cultivate a sense of their own boundaries and to respectfully honor them. Doing a thorough intake process with a client, learning about where they uphold boundaries in their personal lives, or where they may be undefined, can be very illuminating. Talking about them together is a foundational basis of a client/guide relationship. Further, it is the responsibility of the guide to know themselves and their scope of practice well enough to state their own boundaries clearly. Boundaries exist and should be established for the wellbeing of both the client and the guide. 

 

How do we uphold them? 

For guides, the role of mentorship or supervision is critical. Because this work, to date, has no agreed upon standards or systems in place for supervision, it is the responsibility of the guide to actively participate in “doing their own work” by consulting with a mentor, supervisor and/or peer supervision or accountability group, staying active in their own therapy, doing their best to ensure their unconscious or “shadow” material is brought to the surface and worked with. From this place of awareness and reflection by others, the guide is more able to explicitly state their own boundaries and be committed to honoring them and those of their clients. Boundary transgressions can be subtle. That line when we are acting on behalf of the client and acting on behalf of our own agenda can be very thin and hard to recognize without self-awareness, humility and skill. 

Boundaries become especially important in regards to physical touch. Touch can be a profoundly healing component in therapeutic work. That said, we cannot overemphasize the necessity of consent. We must always ask the client where their boundaries are, explain the different kinds of transactions that might happen in a session, and get consent prior to entering into an expanded state experience. The guide must commit to themselves and their client, to not deviating from agreed upon boundaries. In working with expanded states an important rule of thumb regarding consent is, a “Yes” can become a “No” at any time, but a “No” can never become a “Yes” during a session. 

 

Rupture and Repair

Being that we are human, there are times we may fail at recognizing or acknowledging a boundary. When this happens harm can be done and a rupture can occur in the relationship. Another facet to upholding boundaries is the willingness to acknowledge when we haven’t. “Repair” can happen when we own where we have transgressed, apologize, and make effort toward restoration. This process is part of the human experience and one the guide would do well to become well-versed in. This kind of accountability requires a great deal of humility and softening of the ego and thus, has the potential to be incredibly transformative, in itself. 

 

Responding to an ever evolving landscape 

As the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy evolves, we believe those helping shape the field need to be active in implementing systems of accountability. In encouraging the development of  an approach to healing with an equal potential to heal as to harm, it’s critical that we all put as much effort into establishing safety as we do toward generating excitement for the healing potential of this work. 

How are the ethics of care established and who upholds them? What would it look like to acknowledge the variations of approaches in these practices? What happens when a boundary has been violated? Where does one go to file a complaint? Who determines the consequences? How are they enforced? Are there systems in place to support healing for those who have experienced harm? Are there systems in place to support guides who may have made transgressions, but are committed to culpability and transformation? 

We are holding these questions at CCM closely and actively engaging them as we continue to develop this organization, the curriculum, and evolve our practices. We feel passionately about the transformative power of working with expanded states of consciousness and psychedelics, and feel equally passionate about developing rigorous standards of care as the interest (and demand) in psychedelic-assisted therapies continues to increase. 

We welcome your thoughts and contributions to this subject. Please feel free to email us at ccm-team@centerforcm.com

Image via Yang Shuo on Unsplash