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Therapists Retraumatizing the Client by NOT Hugging on Request

polar bears hugging by Victoria.cats on

Newsflash for all therapists of all orientations:  Your clients are generally not stalkers, serial killers or axe-murderers disguised as the depressed, the anxious, the bipolar or the schizophrenic, they are mostly desperately lonely and needy people with compromised interpersonal skills and mostly require a bit of common-sense TLC along with their chosen therapy.

A warm hug can imbibe and instill in your clients a much-needed sense of relief, attachment, security and belonging to a newer and better role-model.  Refusing a hug can so easily retraumatise and regress a depressed, mentally ill client and has a potential and tendency to remind them of the lack of love and affection from their family of origin.

I recently had a comment on one of my first blogs, When is it OK to Hug Your Therapist, where a client was freaked out due to near traffic accidents because of tornado and rainy weather conditions, and was very frightened to leave her therapist’s office for the return journey.  She asked for a hug and got a pat on the shoulder instead.  Whoopee-Doo!

Excuse me!!  How hard would it be for her therapist to embrace her tightly for a few seconds, giving her body memory a visceral assurance that she would be fine and that the weather would not hurt her?

Please don’t give me that old sop about “interpreting the hug.”  Clients are mostly not academic people, have never heard of the word transference and the main reactions from a refused hug is an incredibly overwhelming sense of hurt, embarrassment, humiliation and deep, deep shame of being so unworthy that not even my therapist will touch me.

This summons up and evokes many hidden and not so hidden feelings of abandonment and rejection from parents and other people in their lives and deep, deep feelings that I am not OK and even my therapist thinks I am evil.

So next time a client asks for a hug, give her/him one.  Keep it simple.  A hug can sometimes save a life and a life-saving hug is the best therapy in the world.

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Therapists Retraumatizing the Client by NOT Hugging on Request

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2010). Therapists Retraumatizing the Client by NOT Hugging on Request. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Nov 2010
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