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Mentoring Basics: Boundaries

In two words – “boundaries matter”.

Boundaries are what give the word “relationship” its power.

Without boundaries, we don’t know how to relate to each other, why extending our trust is worth the risks, and what value interacting relationally holds.

Boundaries are like safety cones around common relational units such as bosses and employees, therapists and clients, significant others and their respective close friends, parents and children, teachers and students.

With mentors and mentees especially, boundaries lend substance and certainty to this newer form of teaching partnership.

And when a mentoring partnership forms in a recovery setting, boundaries become critical. With boundaries comes the ability to clearly delineate important distinguishing characteristics that set a mentor’s role apart from that of a clinician, peer, or friend.

Setting boundaries begins with a definition. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “boundary” as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or an extent.” I sometimes prefer to reframe this definition to state “boundaries tell us why we’re both here and what we’re supposed to be doing together.”

Once mentor and mentee have a mutually agreed upon working definition that defines the purposes for the partnership (the “who” and “what”), the next step in boundary setting is defining the “when”, “where”, and “how” of communication.

Here is an example of how this can work. The working definition of a mentoring relationship that we use on MentorCONNECT comes from Beating Ana‘s Mentor Model: “the Mentor Model is the voluntary, ongoing, interactive relationship between mentor and mentee for the sole purpose of facilitating progress in recovery”.

So from here, for our mentoring teams, mentor and mentee can define “when” communication should take place – which according to the definition we use is when the mentee needs support in achieving their recovery goals.

Once this understanding is clear, the team can then proceed to choose the “where” and “how” of their communication – in other words, they can choose the dates, times, length of time per contact, frequency of contact, and other specifics to help them know what to expect from each other and how often to expect it.

On MentorCONNECT, we have found that, without the important first step of setting boundaries, mentees run the risk of lumping the valuable gift of a mentor’s time in with more casual friendships (we often know this is happening when mentors receive emails or phone calls from mentees that begin with “hey girl” or “hey bro – what’s up?”)

Mentees who are experiencing the isolation of an eating disorder can feel tremendous relief in the mentor’s mere presence, but they require the guidance of boundaries in order to be able to use the partnership for the purposes for which it was formed. Using a mentor’s time to chat, gossip, vent, or otherwise connect socially serves neither partner well, and all but negates the singular value a mentoring partnership can provide.

But when a mentoring partnership is formed with a clear purpose and goal that both partners agree upon, and when clear communication boundaries exist, there is literally no limit to how transformative and supportive a mentoring partnership can be!

Mentoring Basics: Boundaries

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Songwriter. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2010). Mentoring Basics: Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Oct 2010
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