It is important for each of us to set boundaries in our lives – both at work and at home. Those boundaries may be defined by what you want to do, can do, or are qualified to do. Whatever the case may be, boundaries will help you to maintain a sense of balance and achievement in your life.
As herbalists, people come to us for a variety of reasons. My clients’ conditions range from irritable bowel syndrome and constipation to anxiety and depression. I believe many of us are attracted to a profession such as herbalism out of a desire to help people. However, you cannot let this desire cloud your professional objectivity and your obligation to your client/patient. To do this effectively you must be aware of your skills and limitations as a practitioner. I am a herbalist, not a counsellor or psychotherapist. I am a herbalist, not a physiotherapist or chiropractor. I am a herbalist, not a surgeon or medical doctor. This may seem logical, but depending in the expectations of your client, the lines between herbalist and counsellor (for example) may become blurred.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe compassion is necessary in any line of work that deals with people – especially people’s health. If I don’t have compassion I cannot effectively do my job. But at some point too much compassion can lead to a dependency. While this may make you feel good – “my client needs me” – dependency on your services and skills can only result in disappointment in the long run. Healing is ultimately a self-directed act. I may be able to help someone along, but in the end it is their choices, compliance and lifestyle that lead to true health. I want my clients to believe they can do it on their own. This empowers them and helps them to realise that health is a goal within their grasp. I may have a particular skill set that they do not, but that does not make me a miracle worker. Needing my skills as a herbalist and needing me are two very different things.
Dependency from the point of view of the herbalist is also not healthy. It is very easy to become too involved in your clients’ lives. In the long run waking up in the middle of the night worried about a client or not being able to concentrate on your work because you are preoccupied with a particular case could result in burnout. Walking the line between professionalism and compassion is not easy, but I think it’s necessary to be a good herbalist. I also believe that finding this line is a lifelong endeavour. Each of us will make mistakes along the way, but if you learn from them then those mistakes have value.
Setting boundaries is easier said than done. I’ve had clients ask me for my personal phone number. As much as I wish I could say yes, I know I need to keep my personal life and my career separate. This is for my own personal well-being. To be the best herbalist I can be, I also need to nurture my needs. That’s where setting boundaries comes in.
There comes a times in every herbalists career when you need to recognize when you are being taken advantage of. It may start with basic questions about health, but before you know it you are giving away your services for free. In an ideal world we would do that willingly, but the reality is I need to put food on the table, just like my clients do. Giving away you services can undervalue them in the long run. Why pay for something that you can get for free? No one I know would describe me as a capitalist. If I could give away my services and remedies for free I would. It pains me to turn away people because they cannot afford my fees. For others who feel the way I do, remember there are options! Consider implementing a sliding scale for those of lower income or perhaps doing charity work in your community. Bartering or exchanges are also lovely options.
As with many things in life setting boundaries is easier said than done. It will probably take all or most of my career to get it right, but learning is in the journey.