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Seelig, B. (2017). Altruism and Boundary Violation. Psychoanal. Inq., 37(7):474-486.

(2017). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 37(7):474-486

Altruism and Boundary Violation

Beth J. Seelig, M.D.

The desire to help others is a common motivation for becoming a therapist, and boundary crossings are an expectable part of psychotherapeutic work. However, progression to boundary violation is rare. The concept of an altruistic boundary violation is presented and illustrated with detailed clinical material drawn from the analysis of Mrs. A,1 a generally ethical therapist, whose violation of the therapist/patient boundary with her patient, M, began as an altruistically motivated enactment and boundary crossing. In Mrs. A’s case, and arguably in all similar altruistic boundary violations, a specific fit existed between patient and therapist. The intense need to rescue this particular patient was fueled by Mrs. A’s history of early physical and abandonment trauma, which increased her vulnerability to overidentification with her traumatized patient. The stress of relocation to another city and closing her practice further magnified her susceptibility. The complex clinical, professional, ethical, and legal issues inherent in consulting on such a case are discussed. I describe my countertransference and my parallel enactment, an initial crossing of the boundary between the roles of supervisor and therapist.

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