10 thoughts on “Should Clients Be Touched? Some Say No: 6 Important Truths

  • May 20, 2015 at 7:16 am

    I had a therapist whom I can now recognize as not just bad but abusive without blaming myself…there were a lot of problems with her violating boundaries, but I suppose possibly to make up for it she created boundaries in other areas…I had seen her hug other clients as they were coming or leaving, but one day in the middle of session I was crying really hard (upset because I had been doing ERP and had worked really hard and then she told me to undo it–the anxiety the exposure produced plus the frustration in how hard I had worked just to undo it was overwhelming) and she physically moved farther away from me and told me her instinct was to hug me but she was not going to do it…that really hurt beyond just what had happened in session…I really needed someone to provide me safety and comfort right then even if it was just my abusive therapist, but instead I got rejection without even having asked for help. I am not going to make the universal judgment that hugs and touch are always the right thing to do, but I think there are times when not hugging or touching is the wrong choice.

    • May 20, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Hi Wiggle Worm,
      Thanks for your comment. I am sorry you had to experience this. I firmly believe that the worst feeling ever is crying or feeling all alone and no one will come to your aid. It’s such a lonely feeling.

      One of the things I did not mention in the article, which is an article of mine coming next week, is that certain therapists refuse to touch certain clients who exhibit certain traits such as: being emotionally needy (or appearing that way), having borderline personality traits, and a host of other symptoms I will discuss in next weeks article. This doesn’t justify her behavior but perhaps it explains it. On the other side of that token are therapists who struggle with their own “baggage” and cannot hug clients because it reminds them of their past, a sexual assault, trauma history, or other bad past. It’s tough. Did you finally leave this therapist or did you stay? If you stayed, why? This experience probably provided good education on what therapists to work with and not work with in the future.

      I wish you well

      • May 20, 2015 at 8:53 pm

        While I was seeing her I felt trapped and was afraid of what she might do if I tried to break free, so the last straw was about a year ago when she forwarded information about me to my boss (whom she had become friends with) for no other reason than to laugh at me, and as a result I am no longer working with her. Sharing with my friends was a problem, but finding out she had been sharing with my boss crossed the line further than I could forgive. Unfortunately since I was seeing her at my school I still come across her in passing and most of the time she does her best to prove she still has power over me, but while it didn’t give me what I would hope a counseling relationship would give me, it did teach me to be a bit slower to trust, and definitely made me really cherish the people in my life who seek to act in my best interest.

  • May 20, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    i have been with my therapist for about 13 -14 years. Therapy is so very hard. I am not a good client, it’s hard for me to open up, describe my feelings, I often feel ashamed in therapy because of these traits. Despite this, my therapist has always seemed caring and even that can feel threatening. Above ALL, I would love a hug from my therapist. Shamefully I know this would never happen, I don’t think this is what she would do or want to do. I would NEVER ask for one either. The rejection that I know this type of request would generate would push me over the edge. I do understand there are therapists who do or do not hug. But I crave this hug. I believe it would signify that she really accepts me, that I’m ok regardless of my past. That I deserve her caring. Just typing this makes me tearful and sad. Perhaps it’s because I come from a family that does not hug or touch that I crave this. I’m not sure. Either way, one hug would be more powerful than she would ever know and also something I could never request. I appreciate the article. Thank you.

  • May 21, 2015 at 3:59 am

    Don’t hug me. Mine was not a touchy-feely family. A handshake yes. A handshake communicates a great deal. I had a psychiatrist who had a dog with her in her office. That was very nice. I didn’t pet it much, maybe once or twice, but like I say mine was not a touching family. The point is a patient could pet and cuddle the dog all he or she liked. Dogs are unreservedly affectionate. I do though very much appreciate a doctor who is not reluctant to show compassion. Some are total icebergs. It is an extremely important relationship. Hugging is way too intimate for me. To me it would cross a professional boundary. I want my psychiatrist to be objective and observant of my symptoms. Caring but not wrapped up in a personal way.

  • May 21, 2015 at 4:19 am

    Hi. I understand the whole therapeutic relationship thing, crossing the line, boundaries etc. I also understand the empathy/”connection”/rejection/professionalism that you write of but I’ll throw a spanner in the works. What about the population that is highly stereotyped and mis-cast as being emotionless. I speak of the world of autism and aspergers. I/We seek connection with people and are often misunderstood. Although I/We don’t need continual reinforcement reminders of “I love you” etc. I liken aspergic connection as akin to two hedgehogs getting trying to connect. i.e. how do they interact without hurting themselves/each other. Additionally I/We live separate to our emotions (hypo/hypersensitive) and live/lead solitary lives so a simple touch can speak volumes and let us know that we are human. My last human contact (touch) was in 2008. With my last hug being 2007.
    I understand it may be inappropriate but I’m just saying……

  • May 21, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    I’m finishing my internship at a correctional facility. At no time would a hug be considered appropriate. Nor do I ever think I would provide more than a handshake with any client regardless of setting.

    • May 21, 2015 at 11:36 pm

      Hi Chris,
      I cannot blame you in your type of setting. In fact, I previously worked with juvenile delinquents in a detention-based setting in which I provided therapy to adolescents who were on probation and involved with the legal system. I would rarely, if ever, provide hugs in this context. Of course, these kids need love too but the chances of being manipulated in this environment is 10x worse than in any other setting. All interactions tend to be different in this population.

  • May 21, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    I think once healthy boundaries have been set up it can be very healing to have a hug at the end of session. I had an abusive childhood and have dealt with a lot of loss both in my childhood and recently. I’ve been in therapy almost two years and something I’ve explored in therapy is feeling like I’ve need but will never get a hug when I need security. My therapist doesn’t do it regularly bit sometimes she will ask to give me ask hug at the end of session. I can hold on to that for security and it almost heals a part of me that was missing. Then my connection with her gives me strength to make difficult changes.

    • May 21, 2015 at 11:41 pm

      That’s wonderful Jay. I’m glad you shared this because a lot of clients feel as you do. Once healthy boundaries are established, hugs (at appropriate times) can be healing and facilitate growth. If a hug/touch is healing for adults, how much more healing is it for children and teens? Everything involving therapy should have its appropriate boundaries, hugs are no different. I think certain therapists remain ungiving of themselves out of fear, which isn’t fair to clients who need us.

      Thanks for sharing


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