Having now practiced social work in Chicago and rural Oregon, I have been thinking about the commonalities and differences of those experiences. One of the main differences is what it looks like to maintain professional boundaries.
The community where I currently work is around 30,000. Of course, size is relative. The town in which I grew up is around half that size and is most know for the annual Rodeo (think cowboys, bull riding, etc). There are aspects of working in smaller, rural communities that I really love. But, one of the more challenging aspects was learning how to manage when your personal and professional lives intersect. This happens in urban practice as well, but I found it to be to a much lesser degree.
I found that I had to be cognizant of my role as a social worker within the realms of dating (see the meme I created above), making friends, faith community, living situation, etc. I will give you a couple examples.
- Personally, it was important for me to find a close community to live in. I lived alone in Chicago and didn’t much like the experience. I found a room to rent in an intentional living community house, with 9 other 20 to 30 year olds. As one of the more affordable places to live in an area experiencing a housing crisis (like much of the West Coast), it became clear that someone from my client base moving into one of the rooms as they opened was a real possibility. As a side, I work in the housing/homelessness field. My question then became, if that were to happen would my professional boundaries require me to move out and opt for a more traditional single apartment lifestyle even though living in community was a personal value of mine?
- As a 26 year old, many people in my age/friend group are at a life stage where they are still struggling financially. As a work at a non-profit that offers financial assistance to persons in financial difficulty, this has at times become a boundary concern. There have been times when I imagine a Venn diagram with potential client base and potential friend base being the two circles. In a small rural community, these two circles almost entirely overlap each other. This is especially problematic working in a small non-profit where there is limited ability to simply transfer a case to a colleague.
I would love to hear how you have found balance and kept a meaningful personal life, especially if you practice in a rural community! Two questions to leave you with:
1)What situations have challenged you?
2)Have you ever felt that maintaining professional boundaries has caused you to feel that you must sacrifice something (place that you live, potential friendships, etc) that are important to you personally?