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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is it ever alright for your Psychiatrist to hug you?

    I have been seeing a Psychiatrist for a number of years for depression and PTSD. We have a reasonable rapport and he has always conducted himself professionally. One day, I was particularly distressed and on leaving he asked if I wanted a hug. I accepted as it felt like a normal human response, and it was appreciated at the time. Nothing was later bought up about it and I didn't think any more of it.

    Nothing happened for a couple of weeks, but often when I am upset, he will endeavour to comfort me by holding my hand or holding me. He does tell me ‘to feel these emotions’ while he is holding me.

    Is this a reasonable method for any form of therapy? There are times when I appreciated this but it has become almost a routine occurance, and am unsure. Nothing further has ever happened.
    Is this ever acceptable?
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  • 1


    My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease ... View Profile

    It is hard to say because obviously I know neither of you IRL. In my case my psychiatrist is a straight man (as am I) and my clinical psychologist is a straight woman. Neither of them has ever touched me, apart from a hand-shake from my psychiatrist at the end of a session.

    I have to say that I feel a bit uneasy about what your psychiatrist is doing. He *may* be experiencing what is called “counter-transference”. This happens when a mental health professional responds to his/her clients on a personal/emotional level, compared to showing empathy, compassion and professional skill - these are the basis of a helpful therapeutic relationship.

    Counter-transference is *not* a good thing in a therapeutic relationship.

    The fact that you have raised this question here suggests (I could be wrong) that you are not comfortable with your psychiatrist touching/holding you in the way that he has.

    If so, I suggest that you try to set a clear relationship boundary with him: ie, ask him not to touch/hold/hug you unless you explictly ask for that kind of physical contact.


  • Anonymous

    It's not usually considered appropriate for your psychiatrist to hug you, hold your hand or touch you in any way during a session. Some schools of thought would say absolutely not under any circumstances, others might say its sometimes appropriate at the end of a therapy saying goodbye for example, others might say during periods of sudden or acute grief and loss it is permitted to gently hold someone or hold their hand. Mostly however therapists are trained not to do any of these things for lots of good reasons.

    Your post indicates as Simon has said above, that you are uncomfortable with it. I think you can tell him to stop and say it is making you feel uncomfortable.

    Particularly, it isn't something that should occur every time you see eachother, and it is a concern if this is the case.

    If you have a good rapport with him, then it is something you could discuss with him at your next session. Alternatively, depending on which state you live in, you could contact the Psychiatrist Registration Board and ask them for their opinion about what is happening.

  • Belinda Chelius

    Counsellor, Social Worker

    I am a skilled, dedicated, culturally sensitive and passionate Senior Social Work Clinician, practicing in the field of complex mental health and substance misuse (Dual-Diagnosis) ... View Profile

    If it makes you feel uncomfortable, whether it is the norm or not, it is NOT OK! Dr Simon summed it up well as to actions you can take.

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