Can a Therapist Hug Client?

In my previous articles I have discussed the ethical dilemma of therapist-client interaction. I suggested that in such a scenario, a professional service provider (other than a licensed psychotherapist) who intends to make a business out of offering therapeutic hugs should first acquire the appropriate training. In this article I want to tell you about the additional problems that arise in cases where therapist-clients do not know each other well or trust one another. I also offer practical solutions for dealing with such problems, as well as the potential pitfalls of hugging a stranger.

First, therapists should not hug a patient since many therapists may feel threatened by it. Some might be able to sense that a patient needs a hug, while others may not. But depending upon our understanding of human rights, therapists should not hug their patients. It’s inappropriate for therapists to physically contact their patients, barring extraordinary extenuating circumstances. Hugs from therapists, therefore, should be limited to hugging during group therapy sessions when a physical confrontation is not likely.

Second, it is possible that a therapist can develop a relationship based upon trust and confidentiality. My concern goes beyond the ethical considerations of professional and personal boundaries, however. It also goes to the larger issues of building bonds of trust and confidentiality with a patient family member, spouse, or co-worker. Psychotherapists can easily build these types of relationships by sharing deep and meaningful connections with their patients. The emotional intelligence model by Ericksonian Psychotherapists proposes that Psychotherapy can increase a psychiatrist’s personal and emotional intelligence, thereby increasing his or her ability to appropriately and effectively deal with patients.

Third, there is a countertransference of feelings. If I hug my brother, there will be a certain amount of countertransference or “unconscious linking” of my feelings to my brother’s feelings. This occurs regardless of whether I consciously consider the action or not. For example, if I am angry at my brother, I will unconsciously experience an increased intensity of anger in my own body. I know my brother feels angry at me, but I do not know his exact feelings. This makes me feel angry in turn, which can ultimately trigger a cycle of anger and resentment.

Fourth, a psychiatrist’s interpersonal skills are enhanced through Therapy. Through ongoing interaction with his or her client, the psychiatrist becomes skilled at socializing with others. This enhances the quality of the patient’s life. Although I cannot speak to all of the benefits of Therapy, there is plenty of research to suggest that there are many. As such, there is a reason why Therapists often engage in a consistent amount of Therapy to enhance their interpersonal skills.

Then, there is the matter of Counseling. A very important component of Psychotherapy is Counseling. Counseling effectively helps clients deal with feelings and issues that are contributing to a Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy session. Therefore, it is imperative that a therapist provides adequate Counseling sessions. A good therapist will ensure that his client has an opportunity to discuss any issues that might be inhibiting his ability to process information from the Psychoanalytical Therapy sessions effectively. This will not only assist the client in processing information from the therapy sessions, but will also provide the basis for the client’s subsequent course of action.

Lastly, there is the matter of Transference. Transference is one of the most complicated elements of Psychotherapy. This is simply the phenomenon that my clients feel that they are having an effect on other people who are either in their present environment or in another time zone. Obviously, therapists must work very hard to avoid unnecessary transference.

Given the above discussion it would be safe to conclude that Psychotherapy, although a relatively simple concept, involves five stages of intervention. The first stage is where the need for therapy actually arises. As mentioned before, clients cry when they do not understand why they are undergoing Therapy. A good Psychotherapist will help his or her patient see the need for therapy and should be able to point out potential reasons why the client may not be experiencing the effects expected from a given therapy.