Can a Therapist Hug a Client?

When a therapist hugs a client on that special occasion, there is definitely less risk than it would be otherwise. Likewise, touching in an intimate manner is generally not inappropriate. However, clients may occasionally react negatively to a touch they feel is too strong. In this case, what can a client do to ensure the best experience possible?

Some therapists assume that just because their close friends or family members are willing to be close with them that they can just jump right into a situation that will result in a hug. While many people have a natural tendency to want to connect with those who are very close to them, therapists should keep in mind that most individuals have different personalities. Those who seem to be pushy or possess a dominant personality might not be the best candidates for therapy with a client who has a slightly different personality. Not all therapists are aware of this subtle difference, so this can cause some discomfort for some therapists when they receive a gift from a loved one that isn’t entirely appropriate.

It’s not uncommon for therapists to feel safe giving a hug to their patients. This sense of security and safety may sometimes lead some clients to excessively trust a therapist. Too much trust can cause clients to develop feelings of mistrust. Not all therapists get attached to their patients. As a professional, it’s important that you understand your boundaries and stick to them.

Some clients worry that if they show too much affection toward a therapist that this may create a dependency within them. The thought of being dependent on someone can be a scary one, especially if that person has done something to hurt you. To put it simply, you are not dependent on your therapist. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, then go ahead. Many therapists really appreciate the gesture.

It’s also important for therapists to know how to approach a patient. Sometimes clients want to talk about their issues in therapy. However, a therapist should not force a patient to talk or express their feelings. A therapist should listen carefully to a patient and give them the space they need to work through their feelings. If a therapist tries to force a client to talk or express their feelings during a therapy session, it could create a bad atmosphere between the therapist and the client.

Often, some therapists get attached to their clients and think they can “fix” them. They begin to push their feelings aside to make room for more comfortable feelings. But ultimately, it’s not healthy to push clients away or to withhold your own feelings. Attaching yourself to your clients is unhealthy if done in a way that smothers them and makes them feel less safe.

Psychologists like to use the analogy of divorce. Psychologists understand that divorce is painful for everyone, and some people cry during it. But therapists, because they have trained themselves to be sensitive, caring, and empathetic, do not hold their clients down and make them feel guilty for crying. In fact, therapists encourage their clients to express themselves and to get attached to them during the therapy process. When the process of getting attached is completed, clients feel safe enough to express themselves and this helps prevent the formation of dysfunctional relationships.

Whether or not a patient feels comfortable expressing his/her feelings at the outset, it is always better to wait until they’re ready to open up. Just like divorce, waiting until certain points in a person’s life are over may be the best option. Sometimes, we may need to be reminded why we want to work with someone. If that person doesn’t feel safe expressing their needs, it may be better to find a new therapist.