Boundaries and the Movies

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Our new (second) 6 CE credit online course on Ethics & Movies,
Boundaries and the Movies: Learning about Therapeutic Boundaries through Movies, fulfills the Law/Ethics Requirement:

Themes in movies have long shown a fascination with therapeutic boundaries. While many movies portray therapists as wacky, greedy and sexually predatory, many other movies deal sensitively with the everyday therapeutic and clinical complexities that we face.

Following are a few examples of how movies illuminate ethical complexities and can help us navigate through them in our practices.

Antwone Fisher illuminates the therapist’s need for flexibility regarding treatment decisions, the value of inviting a patient to a family dinner or calling a patient “son.”

Good Will Hunting stimulates a rather heated discussion on the ethical complexities of the use of language, physical touch, getting in one’s face, sessions outside the office and many other therapeutic boundaries.

Gross Point Blank demonstrates how important it is to inform clients about limits of confidentiality as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship. It also reminds us that sometimes clients can easily instill fear in us, therapists. The myth of the therapist’s omnipotence is challenged.

Deconstructing Harry hilariously illuminates for us the potential hazards of the home office.

Dressed to Kill invites us to explore the complexities of gift giving and how gifts, which are formulated as a planned intervention, can be ethically appropriate and therapeutically valuable.

What About Bob? reminds us how important it is to set boundaries with an overbearing and highly intrusive (but funny) client. The movie shows us how to try to deal with our anger, and to being intruded upon, in the best possible ways.

Ordinary People invites us to consider how decisions about the therapist’s physical proximity to his client can support a treatment goal.

Prince of Tides teaches us about the ethics of sexual relationships with a client’s brother.

Basic Instinct illustrates the fact that some clients, in some situations, can gain significant power over their therapist with whom they have sexual relationships.

Prime demonstrates the surprises and messes that are often unavoidable in our practices. It proves that dual relationships do not occur only in rural communities and how risk-benefit analysis and consultation can help navigate complicated and unexpected clinical situations.

Frances exemplifies how the inappropriate use of language can lead to a boundary violation.

K-Pax illuminates the importance of consultation and collateral information in understanding the client. It also demonstrates how physically restraining a client may be necessary to protect the client from him/herself or others.

Stay brings up the question of sexual relationships with former clients. It shows how long after termination it is appropriate to get involved and the kind of situation one should never, sexually, get involved in with former clients.

The first Ethics-Movies Icovers: Confidentiality, Self-Disclosure, Touch, Dual Relationships and Out-Of-Office Experiences (i.e., home visits, in-vivo exposures, attending a wedding, incidental encounters, etc.) and is available at

The new Ethics-Movies II covers: Informed Consent, Gifts, Home Office, Clothing, Language, Humor and Silence, Proximity and Distance between therapist and client, and, finally, Sexual Relations, and is available at

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