Do you do it with a smile, a business-like hand shake or something rather warmer like a hug?
Counsellors don’t always get it right
These questions unexpectedly tested my psyche on an initial meeting with fellow therapists. I felt I could probably gauge an appropriate way to meet up, but while I wanted to avoid being too stereotypical I did get in a mess. I then thought if I struggled with other therapists how on earth would I get on with clients, let alone outside of work with someone I fancy ?
I would advance with my arms moving out to offer a hug only to find them bisected with a firm handshake heading for my midriff. I assumed they would drop their hand as they realized their mistake and warm to my welcoming hug. No! They assumed I would have quickly realized I was totally over the top with someone I hadn’t met before and we ended up in an embarrassing mix of hands and arms.. with the words `nice to meet you`, which of course it wasn’t at all, at that moment. One gestaltist (who can be very huggy), was very much at the psychodynamic end of the spectrum (which is not so huggy), chided me on expecting her to want a hug from me, so I leant my lesson.
I’ve noticed that when therapists met on cathartic, body based, personal development workshops, hugging would become the norm. However in the professional age when workshops are an opportunity to fill out your CV, making body contact is not offered or expected in the same way at all. I also make the rash generalization that CBT therapists, who are usually not required to complete any personal therapy in their training, are the least likely to want body contact. I suppose the exception to that would be psychoanalytic therapists who would question what the desire for contact represented and have at times been known to frown on shaking hands with clients.
When I was much more relaxed about these meetings and felt like anything goes, (in those happy naïve days) I was rather partial to the very relaxed low five (well that’s what I call it- a kind of angled slappie handshake that I saw my kids doing). I remember feeling so laid back I would raise my hand in the air on its way down for a mutual hand slap/hug. However with my hand still high in the air in an early experiment, the recipient of my warm relaxed offerings actually flinched and ducked away, looking as though I was about to smack them. It transpired that the only physical contact that person had received from their father was a slap round the head, so that was what they were reminded to expect. How embarrassing was that, although it did lead into an interesting conversation. Perhaps I should point out that at 6`5″ if i lift my arm above my head, it is a long way to come down for a smaller person, so I now understand that it wouldn’t look at all chilled to them.
My kids bang hands and elbows as ways of greeting or expressing things to each other but I’ve learnt not to try and emulate them. You can see that I’ve leant an enormous amount from these other therapists – in many cases before I even met them.
When i started in therapy everything took place sitting on cushions on the floor but when business people arrived in their suits there were many raised eyebrows so all of that has gone now too.. At BCPC we still bring the cushions out of the cupboard when the suits have gone – but then the suits start varying what they wear too!