Therapist Won’t Shake Hands

Reader’s Question

I have recently started visiting a clinical psychologist. When I greeted him, he let me know politely that we could not shake hands as he is not allowed to touch patients in his profession. I had never heard this before. I arrived at this therapist not via recommendation, so I am a little worried.

Psychologist’s Reply

Like you, I have never heard of a prohibition against touching patients in medicine, psychology, counseling, social work or psychiatry. All professions stress “appropriate touch” and consider a handshake very appropriate. In the practice of therapy and counseling, professionals often set boundaries regarding such things as touch, after-hours contact/calls, gifts, etc. Not shaking hands is his personal preference — not a requirement of the profession. If you are a warm, people-person he may not be a good fit for you in treatment. He’s already created some emotional and social distance. If he doesn’t warm up or if his behavior hinders your ability to relate to him, I’d look for another therapist.

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