040 – Personal Boundaries – Melanie Klein’s Object Relations Theory – Diversity

Counselling Tutor Podcast Ep40: Personal Boundaries – Melanie Klein’s Object Relations Theory – Diversity

040 – Personal Boundaries – Melanie Klein’s Object Relations Theory – Diversity

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In episode 40 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Rory Lees-Oakes and Ken Kelly discuss personal boundaries for counsellors. ‘Theory with Rory’ explains object relations theory, as developed by Melanie Klein. Finally, the presenters talk about diversity in the counselling room.

Personal Boundaries (starts at 2.19 mins)

Ken and Rory offer a number of tips on maintaining personal boundaries as a counsellor:

  • Our counselling training means that we sometimes can’t help but pick up the emotions and experiences of people we are talking to in social settings. It is important to learn to switch off from counselling, as it would be both unhealthy and unethical to counsel someone in this situation.
  • Don’t overshare with people – it can be especially easy to do this on social media, where your sharing will be stored forever. If you feel tempted to do so, try to reflect on your reasons for this (which may relate to transference or to needing therapy yourself to offload issues), and use your journal, personal development group and/or supervision to explore it.
  • As counsellors, we may sometimes see clients when we are out with our family/friends. Explain to your family in advance that if someone they don’t know greets you when you are out, you will not be able to tell them how you know them.
  • Similarly, don’t ‘out’ colleagues to your family/friends – your fellow counsellor may not wish others to know about their work.

To conclude, Ken reminds us that boundaries are intended to be firm not elastic, and Rory points to Spiderman’s words that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.


Melanie Klein’s Object Relations Theory (starts at 14.39 mins)

Melanie Klein was an Austrian-British psychoanalyst who worked with Sigmund Freud but ultimately parted ways with him. While Freud believed that we as humans are driven by libido (i.e. an aggressive sexual energy), Klein asserted that we are driven by object relations, especially how we bond with significant caregivers and ourselves. Klein’s theory was therefore related to attachment.

Klein looked at how very young children initially view the world, and begin to regulate themselves, in response to their experiences of relationships. If a baby’s needs are consistently not met, their experience of connecting with others can become split or fragmented. Klein characterised this split using the concept of ‘good breast, bad breast’, describing the two parts of the maternal object.

The youngster can take this split within themselves, and it can even contribute to the development of borderline personality disorder (in which the person has not been able to fully integrate the various parts of self). This theory has contributed to the move from foster care being institution-based to foster children being placed with families.

Rory provides more information on object relations theory and how it applies to counselling practice in his free download, ‘Five Observations on Object Relations’.

Free Handout Download

Object Relations: An Introduction

Diversity (starts at 22.58 mins)

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 requires equal treatment of all in employment access and in private and public services, regardless of the nine protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. It is important to think about how you adhere to this in your counselling practice.

However, understanding diversity and accepting difference in others is about more than just meeting legal requirements. Each of us experiences the world in a unique way, and it is vital for counsellors to avoid making assumptions and generalisations about others based on their own individual experiences. Our own ‘truths’ may come from the media, what our family has told us, our own experiences, and our experiencing of others.

Rory recommends that to gain an insight into how women might experience the world, male therapists should read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.


Links and Resources

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Counselling Tutor Facebook group

Counselling Tutor website

Basic Counselling Skills: A Student Guide