Dear Beth

Is it unethical for my therapist to hold my hand?

Happiness is: gorgeous wild flowers adorn Ontario meadow


Dear Beth,

I'm in somewhat of a dilemma. I was hoping you would be able to shed some light on the following. I'm a ... gay woman, in therapy with a female doctor. I've been going to her for almost 2 years for depression. On several occasions, when I have found myself crying, she has held my hand. On my last visit, she refused to do it. When I tried to understand more about her reasoning, she closed the door on the subject, saying, "we're not talking about this anymore". I was wondering if holding a patients hand is out of line or allowable. I would really appreciate your help. Thank you.

Beth answers: Holding a client's hand is not unethical, but it might by some therapists and in some circumstances be considered counterproductive, depending in part on a therapist's theoretical orientation. I would also note that the practice of psychotherapy, like everything else, is affected by the prevailing social and political climate. Recent trends have been edging psychotherapy away from the humanistic schools and towards a more impersonal approach, especially in the medical profession. Therapists who are paid by the client have more freedom in choosing their approach. 

Whatever your therapist's reason, I do think how the change in her behaviour affects you is important and needs to be talked about in the sessions. What are you imagining it means? How do you feel? What reassurances do you want or need from your therapist? If she is unwilling or unable to pursue this work with you, it might be a good idea to do some work on your feelings and concerns with another psychotherapist.


Further information: Rules about therapists and sexual contact