Maintaining appropriate professional boundaries with clients in mental health settings can be complex, particularly for forensic inpatient nurses and healthcare workers. The literature in this area has mainly focused on boundary violations, with little research on how staff members develop and maintain boundaries in forensic inpatient units, despite safe working relationships being beneficial for staff experience and client recovery.
Interviews with 11 nurses and healthcare workers from forensic inpatient wards were analyzed using a constructivist grounded theory methodology.
A cyclical model of boundary development was developed in which staff initially acclimatize to the forensic environment before entering a calibration phase of constantly assessing and addressing professional boundary issues in daily working life. Staff members use this experience alongside reflection, social learning, and clinical supervision to undergo individual learning and team development. In the fourth phase, they use this learning to recalibrate their views on boundaries, themselves, and how they work with clients. This recalibration impacts on staff members' further management of daily boundaries, providing more materials for learning, which leads to further recalibration.
This study echoes previous literature suggesting the importance of supervision and reflective spaces in professional boundary understanding. The model is comparable with existing learning theory and reflects a clinical drive toward safe uncertainty. The importance of social and experiential learning is highlighted and has important implications for forensic nurses.