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As you know, physical touch is a particularly potent form of nonverbal communication. With increasing concerns about child abuse, sexual abuse and harassment in all forms, touch can be misinterpreted and attitudes can vary widely.
However, people have always used different forms of touch to give comfort and support, to demonstrate acceptance, and to give reassurance. More recently, practice models have been developed. These models, as you know, emphasize hugging and use of physical self more directly in working with people.
If used to meet the need of the therapist rather than that of the client, physical contact is definitely contraindicated. On the other hand, because of the deep need within people that touching satisfies, touching can be extremely useful. However, as mentioned earlier, in light of the recent developments in the areas of sexual abuse, therapists need to be extremely cautious in setting this boundary.
To Touch or Not to Touch?
When I finished, I asked if she felt more comfortable. She was obviously struggling with strong feelings and a lifetime of living within herself. However, she said, "My mother used to do that for me." She began to cry and for the first time talked about herself. She reached out for me as she spoke, and I held her hand.
Robinson's Ethical Decision Making
Ethics Case Study: Jason
Think of a client that you touch, perhaps via a hug at the end of the session. What is the client's situation that makes this okay? What are the context of the hug and the nature of the relationship between you? If you never touch any of your clients, is this an ethical boundary you might consider reevaluating or not?
Sexual Boundary Violations by Health Professionals -
- Halter, M. Brown, H., and Stone, J. (2007). Sexual Boundary Violations by Health Professionals – an overview of the published empirical literature. The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence.
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