Hugs in Therapy » myShrink

Hugs in Therapy


It's total anguish. Every cell in your body is screaming you want to be hugged. It's natural of course . . . it's how we have healed ourselves over the millennium. Then why are many modern day healers resistive to the idea?

Turn your speaker volume up because it’s time to listen to your…

“Hugs in Therapy” Podcast


Time 9:33

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

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BONUS Audio!

In this recent teleseminar Dr. Carole & I addressed a MyShrink Member’s question concerning touch in psychotherapy.

Dr. Carole relates an awesome strategy you can try with your therapist . . .





Time 5:25

“Clients” Speak Up

I received this question a while back and I thought it pretty much described the anguish folks struggle with in their therapy around the question of touch. I thought I’d include it here.

hi, i would like to know ur opinion of holding in therapy. Im struggling with this every day. i have a hell of a time with it. my therapist wouldn’t hold me, wanna know if its really not good

thank u very much

Great question ABC. The short answer is that it depends on the therapist’s comfort level with touch. I’ve held clients and they have found it to be very beneficial.


Well she’s definately comfortable with touch cuz she does hug me every time b4 I leave but she wouldn’t budge with this and I’ve been begging her and begging her and this is causing me so much pain….

She claims that therapist don’t hold their clients – BS!

Cuz i know some do – here u go… u do.


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  • Avatar Will says:

    I’m very satisfied with my therapist even if she doesn’t touch her clients. Still I knew I needed some sort of holding or touching mode of healing.

    I tried a few sessions with a “snugglist” (yeah it’s a real thing) That was not a good experience as this person was untrained and unprofessional. I noticed her sending and receiving texts while holding me.

    I decided to try working with a sex surrogate as I also have a lot of anxiety with sex. This person also communicates with my therapist after each session. I have had a dozen sessions with her and at least so far it has all been talking and hugging without removing any clothes. It has been a remarkable experience though this is an expensive option. (good luck getting your insurance to cover this)

    Thanks for all the great info on this site which has helped me in choosing the healing I need.

  • Avatar ANSELEM AKUBUE says:

    I am very greatful for this. But is this counseling approach for elderly counselors only?

    • Shrinklady Shrinklady says:

      Hello Anselem, when you say this “counseling approach” I’m assuming you mean using touch in therapy. The use of touch is for any therapist and particularly those who work with folks longer than 12 sessions (i.e. by 12 sessions I mean to suggest it’s not short-term therapy).

      Let me know if that answers your question.


  • Avatar Lou says:

    Not that it should matter but I am a 51 yr old woman who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and I need your perspective on what happened to me in my therapy.
    I have been seeing my therapist for over 4 years now and about 1 year in, I asked if she provided hugs and she said she was open to it if there were clear signals that it felt appropriate, was not going to be re-traumatizing and only if it was something I asked for (not initiated by her, since I have a childhood sexual abuse history). So for over 3ish years now, on occasion, I have asked for and received a hug (usually at the beginning of the session). These hugs were usually asked for before her leaving on holiday, after she came back or if I felt that I needed to “reconnect” with her in the next session after I had really exposed myself and felt alot of shame, guilt and/or embarrassment.
    About 4 weeks ago, I came into the session asked for and received a hug and described a dream I had the night before…I was flying with a garbage bag above me that was now empty being used like a kite (the garbage bag used to contain all the toxic stuff from being abused), now the bag was being used to lift me up and feel light, filled with joy and possibility. I had three flights with this garbage bag in this dream, the first was quite amazing and freeing, the next very short lived and almost disastrous and the last filled with near misses of objects…(that is the dream).
    As I told her about my dream, I started to cry and when asked why, I said it made me worry about when I would no longer see her as my therapist. We talked about this topic and I got progressively more upset and overwhelmed at which time I again asked for a hug. She gently said no. I felt heartbroken, hurt, re-traumatized and confused. When she explained that she felt it would be taking away from my process by comforting me when I really should be trying to comfort myself and that she was still “here” for me, still “present” she did not want me to avoid the processing of my deep emotions. At the time, the adult part of me completely understood (still felt hurt) but did understand. BUT, the child part was very confused and hurt as mentioned above. I left the session feeling very raw emotionally. She said she would consult with the psychiatrist she usually consults with to get her perspective on things (as she has done in the past with other issues that have come up).
    The following week if I remember correctly she called in sick (a rare event).
    The next session, I asked for a hug at the beginning of the session (again to reconnect and to remove any internal dialogue about being toxic due to not getting the hug last time), she said we had to talk about that and sat down without hugging me. I was filled with dread!!!
    She explained that she would no longer provide physical comfort (hugs) when asked. I was crushed emotionally and started to sob. She explained that after the last session, she felt it was “crystal clear” that she would be taking away from my process if she continued to provide physical comfort. Instead it would be much healthier to “discuss/talk about not getting the comfort and what that brings up for me. (at least that is what I remember her saying or meaning).
    I was so hurt and felt even more confused by this “black and white” decision, that I could not even look at her while she was trying to explain how she was not actually closing her heart to me but opening it by allowing for a much deeper conversation about the lack of comfort. (To my knowledge, there has been few times that our sessions were fluffy and not deep in emotions and raw feelings).
    I would also like to say, my therapist is probably considered to be one of the top trauma therapist where I live and our therapeutic relationship has only really had minor bumps on the road up to this point.
    So, to continue, I left very emotional. I wrote her a letter which I asked her to read the following session to try to sway her decision but it looks like she still feels she is doing what is therapeutic for my process.
    I however, view this as a very clinical decision without any consideration for how damaging it is to me AND my process.
    I could explain how a previous therapeutic relationship affected how deeply I feel about this but my message has been long enough.
    Can you provide your feedback/perspective on this? I realize you don’t have all the facts but what I have laid out here is pretty detailed as to how it went down.
    I sincerely appreciate any feedback you provide!!! Thank you! Lou

    • Shrinklady Shrinklady says:

      Hi Lou, thank-you for sharing so many details of your life. I can’t hide the disappointment I felt in reading your story. And I can imagine how painful this must be for you. As you know when we go to therapy for some time, the process triggers our early memories – we go into child mode. In this state, we need new memories to help heal the old. So when I hear stories such as yours where I go is to imagine saying “no” to a child who wants a hug. Or someone saying “You’ll have to learn to deal with this on your own”. Strict parents used to do this sort of thing and it was acceptable.

      We’ve learned from child development studies that if children are given what they need, they flourish. If they are sent out into the world without sufficient self soothing capacities, they flounder. When you are in child mode, you’re back there. You’re in a state where you need the same comforts as a child would. When you have sufficient self-soothing memories, then you’ll be better able to take on the daily challenges of life.

      There is nothing wrong in needing the healing touch of another human being. If you can’t get this from your therapist – the one person you likely trust the most in the world – then where can you get it from?

      I can’t point a finger at your therapist – it just seems it takes forever for new ideas – even neuroscience – to reach therapists. Yet here you are in need of something that if you were met in this way – by a mere hug – it could provide such deep healing – and so easily so I might add.

      I think your therapist is trying to do the right thing. The fact that she sought out supervision says she does want to do what she thinks is right for you. So I’m torn when I say that what I think is going on in your therapy is not right. Every cell in my heart says it’s not right.

      What I believe is happening now in your therapy is a mini recapitulation of what you got as a child – inconsistent parenting. I imagine at this point you might be thinking “where do I go from here?” So, let’s step back…

      Your therapist has chosen to meet you at a much older emotional state where your capacity to think and verbalize your feelings are at. You can still do work from there – however, in my opinion that still leaves your earlier states untouched. And I’m not sure if this fracture in your relationship can be healed if she’s not willing to give you what you need. In fact, you’re at risk of closing up again and “pretending” it’s all okay just to secure your relationship with her.

      I guess if I was to leave you with something Lou is this…try not to let her high status as a “trauma expert” sway what you know in your heart is right for you. She is well meaning. However, I’d strongly encourage you to do some inner child work. This is something I teach in my program so in brief it’s about creating a safe place and going to those early places to do the healing you need.

      All the best,

  • Avatar Lauren says:

    Wow. I can barely breathe after reading these. This whole conversation is incredibly inspiring and moving but also fills me with anxiety. I’m about to have my 6th session with my therapist and a week ago felt myself developing strong transference feelings, and told him so. I have felt very connected to him now two or three times, it;s hard to explain but I just felt an emotional rawness and I think he picked up on that and he smiled at me tenderly and I wanted to cry so much, but I couldn’t because I can’t cry in front of people, only alone. I went home and bawled my eyes out. But I felt this overpowering need to be held in his arms, the way my mother should have held me (my mother was very cold and rejecting and un-maternal to an extreme). I look at him more as a mother figure than a father figure, I have no idea why. My transference feelings don’t extend to the sexual, but I long for a deeper connection, to be able to cry in his arms or on his chest, or sit on the floor with him (I like the earlier commenter’s idea about moving over closer on the floor).

    Yet at the same time I am so afraid of touch and I feel disconnected to my emotions. My therapist seems extremely empathetic and last week when I was discussing a painful memory in an intellectual, detached way, hea sked me to pay attention to my internal physical state at the time and I thought about it and realized I felt a blockage in 3 places and realized this is why I can’t cry. He leaned forward and told me we’d work toward that together, toward me being able to trust him enough to cry with him and get all the trapped pain out. He actually hadly had tears in his eyes as he said this (I read recently this is both ethical and fairly common in therapy). I couldn’t believe it. I felt like i was dreaming. I never felt so validated, ever. I was over the moon that he CARED that much…it was beautiful….BUT! I broke our gaze when I saw the tears because at the same time I felt too exposed and raw…and his emotions embarrassed me some (because they mirrored my own? I’m still trying to figure this out)…so I looked at my shoes and laughed nervously. I’m always running from my true feelings and covering them over….this is something he knows and we’re working on….I want to be able to embrace my feelings the way I think he does. I feel so lucky to have found him.

    While I was staring at my shoes and in spite of my embarrassment I was so tempted to throw my arms around him right then in childlike gratitude. I just couldn’t do it though. He picked up on this too and asked me what was making me uncomfortable so I told him. I told him I loved the fact he was an empath who could model emotions for me and feel them even more than I felt them myself, and how deeply moved I was by his tears…but that my defense mechanisms wouldn’t allow me to connect fully or fully experience such a beautiful and profound moment. He said nothing, but listened beautifully and then our time was up. As I got up to leave, I thought I saw him hold his arms out toward me as if to hug me but I wasn’t sure so I didn’t respond in kind, since I wasn’t sure I was imagining this or not and didn’t want to risk rejection if he wasn’t. At our next session I want to know what his boundaries are about holding and touch because I have an overpowering, almost painful need to let myself be held by him and cry into his arms like a small child.

    It’s just hard to reconcile this need with my almost equally strong need to be in control all the time, and to be detached from my own and other’s emotions. Becoming too vulnerable is terrifying to me but at the same time I long for it so much, and my therapist is the only person in the world I would allow to see me like that or to hold me that way.

    I wanted to say that he is extremely ethical and careful about my boundaries. He never said how he feels about touching and hugging in therapy (and I’m unsure if I imagined him holding his arms out toward me or not), but my gut instincts tell me he would do it if I needed it. He also sometimes moves over to sit next to me or leans forward toward me to tell me certain things (I can’t explain this, it sounds weird but it isn’t) but has not actually touched me.
    I don’t know if this makes much sense…I’m rambling. My thoughts/feelings are a jumble right now and I feel like I’m being pulled between two powerful forces: the need to become a young child and sob into this man’s arms and let him mother me; and the other one to pull away and protect myself from feeling much of anything at all. A couple of these entries brought tears to my eyes…I want that so much. I’m so close to it, I think. But that wall inside me is like steel-enforced cement.
    I don’t know how I’m going to get through these next few days until our next session. I need him the way a 2 year old needs mommy.

    • Shrinklady Shrinklady says:

      That was a lovely comment Lauren. Thank-you for having to courage to share your story with us. I’m inspired by comments such as yours – to hear how even in spite of your fears you’re trudging forward. And from the sounds of it, you have the right therapist to help you get there. So good to know.

      And just so you know Lauren, these fears will subside one day and you’ll learn so much and grow to be the person you were meant to be!

      All the best,

      PS. Here’s a tip to help you get through this time. It’s about using two parts of your brain. Each time you feel like a 2 year old wanting Mommy, take a moment right there and then and allow your maternal instinct to care for her. It helps to get through the moment and it does a little healing at the same time.

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