Touch (And Hugs) In Therapy

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I find it fascinating that when I’m contemplating or experiencing something, that topic keeps showing up in various ways and settings. It’s like that popular example of wanting to buy a new car, and the model and colour you’re especially interested in, seems to show up everywhere.

This time the topic is that of touch and hugs in therapy. I’m subscribed to a few different YouTube channels, two of those of therapists, and found one of the videos particularly intriguing.

There are so many people, therapists included, that believe that touch either shouldn’t have a place in sessions, or that it might even be harmful to clients. I’ve also read a lot of research and opinion pieces on the role of touch in the mental health field. It’s a very grey area. Through this, and through my own feelings and experiences of the matter, I’ve firmly believed (and still do) that touch can be important in a therapeutic setting. And that’s why I found this particular video really great. I’ll link to it at the end of this post.

I can remember a very good example of the power of touch during one of my therapy sessions. I was in a very chaotic state, disoriented and dissociated at the same time. It was a culmination of certain things that happened that day, and something that happened while waiting for my session to start. When we got to my therapists office (she had to take my hand to lead me there, that’s how disorientated I was), she sat down right next to me on the couch and held both my hands in hers as I slowly started feeling better. By her doing what she did, I didn’t feel like I was free-falling and alone in a place I didn’t quite understand anymore. I can’t remember a lot of what was said, but I can clearly remember the warmth of her actions, and how powerful it was for me at the time. I believe it’s what helped stabilize and regulate me much quicker than if she had just sat across from me as usual.

Have you had any similar experiences in your own therapy? What are your thoughts on the role of touch in the mental health field?

You can watch the video here:

 

23 thoughts on “Touch (And Hugs) In Therapy

  1. I think touch is extremely important, whether it is a hug at the end of a session, or what you experienced with your therapist sitting and holding your hand. (of course, this is assuming that the therapist has good strong boundaries.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, boundaries are important, and especially when it comes to touch. Like the psychologist explains in the video, it’s important to know the why’s behind the action, as well as when touch might not be a good idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. drgeraldstein

    A couple of comments. The Buddhists like to say, “When the student is ready, the master will appear.” Or, the car model and color will appear (I will admit something is lost in translation. 😉 The point being, that you have become open and mindful of those things that are already present. Your mind didn’t create or attract those things, you simply began to notice them or what reminded you of them. So with the master: there were always possible teachers, but you weren’t yet ready, searching, and open to the master’s message or the presence of other possible guides and their guidance.
    Point two: there is a difference between being “aware” of boundaries and being capable of keeping to the limits. We are sexual creatures. The red line is easily overstepped by one party or the other. Thus, while touch can be helpful or healing, you (or your therapist) might go over the line regardless of good intentions. This is not about “you” specifically. It applies to both counselors and their clients, in general.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t believe in the so called Law of Attraction. The way you described it makes far more sense. We become more aware of what’s already there, or possible. We’re more open to noticing opportunities. We didn’t magically bring those opportunities to us.

      You’re correct in your second point as well and I’m with you on it. I think that’s why it’s such a heated debate sometimes, and one with good points to be made for both sides. There’s always a level of risk involved, and I guess it also depends on how willing the therapist (specifically) is in taking that risk. For example, how easy will it be for a client to misread the situation and attribute meaning to that touch as being sexually suggestive or for the benefit of the therapist? That therapist, despite good intentions, may lose his/her license. That’s a risk that not many will take, and so it’s easier to stay on the side of caution. Which is why I completely understand those in the mental health field who don’t feel comfortable with it, and will not go down that route, ever. Not to mention, some mental health practitioners just don’t like to hug or touch people in general, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. That’s also why I believe it’s crucial that the lines of communication around this topic be opened and discussed and not just have things assumed. I also think it’s far more complicated, and I would actually say, that any touch between therapist and client of different genders, isn’t such a good idea, which is also mentioned in the video. I know for me, I would never be comfortable with a male therapist touching me in any way, even a hug. Maybe it’s due to my past experiences in life and own issues, so I may be biased when I say I won’t even be comfortable hearing about a male therapist hugging their client, or the client hugging him.

      Thanks again for a great comment. 🙂

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      • drgeraldstein

        Thanks, Rayne, for your thoughtful words, as well. Just to add one quote I love, from Oscar Wilde, “I can resist anything except temptation.” Many therapists realize that it is easier to avoid than resist. Those who don’t resist permit some level of risk. No therapist is made of stone. If they were, I suspect they would be no good at all at the job of healing.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Breathing Deeply

    As a therapist, I can answer from my perspective of this subject. I know many therapists that will not physically touch their clients but I hug my clients if they want a hug. I feel it is essential to the relationship that if there is enough trust and they ask me for a hug that denying them that would be like rejection and abandonment. Of course, I use it as a topic to explore, what the hug means to them, and how it felt afterward. I see everything that occurs in the session as important topics for exploration and growth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective. I agree that denying a client that hug could be more damaging, especially for those who are prone to feeling rejected and abandoned. Exploring these things afterward (or even before if possible) is really important.

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  4. I think it would depend entirely on the therapist. I’m not against physical contact. In fact, it can be amazing from certain sources. That said, I despise people getting close to me in public. Like, I REALLY hate it. It’s a massive anxiety trigger. Hopefully, my mental health won’t decline to the point where I need a therapist beyond phone consultations, but I guess we’ll see…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m the same, I have a fear of people bumping into me in public and standing close to me. My anxiety sky rockets in public places, especially when there are a lot of people. One thing that really frustrates and even angers me is when I move away from someone in a queue, but the more I move away the closer they come. I eventually just tell them to give me space. That’s resulted in a lot of criticism from those people or being made to feel like a “freak”. But I really don’t care, my space is more important to me than what they might think of me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. dbest1ishere

    I think touch is very important. Alice always gives me a hug after our sessions and I like it. I never was a touchy feely type of person so it took a bit to get used to, but it ends the sessions well and it helped me see she really does care. If I am having a bad session she will hug me to let me know she is there.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never tried physical contact with a therapist before especially when I’m dissociated because I tend to fear intimacy more in that state but it does also make me want to try it. Like I want to explore my past trauma but in a safe setting and my fear of touch and intimacy might be good to work on with someone I consider safe with no personal commitment, so a therapist, I do agree about asking first I remember having a panic attack and someone instinctively went to touch me to comfort me and I flinched away like that person had given me an electric shock it was seen as rude but I also think it’s rude to touch someone in distress without their permission 🤷 also I suggest you have a look at something called syncronicities (I might have spelled that wrong lol) but its really interesting and sounds like what you might be experiencing 🙂 much love ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A hugs me often. She has also previously held me while I cry hysterically, which I wrote about before. It’s all led by me, she never initiates, and it’s been all too healing in moments I felt so alone. I believe in the power of therapy and touch, but it has to be right. The right therapist, the right client, and very very strong boundaries with a lot of discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

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