January 21 (tomorrow) is National Hugging Day here in the US, and newspapers and other media outlets will be encouraging us to distribute hugs generously and indiscriminately. We will be “educated” on the benefits of hugs, not only to our emotional well-being, but to our health and welfare generally.
In my local paper, I came across a mindbodygreen.com article on this topic. Here are some quotes:
“Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cell”
“Hugs balance out the nervous system. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system – parasympathetic.”
All of which is wonderful.
But in the mental health business, we need to be aware that many of our clients are extremely uncomfortable with hugging. As the mental health ethos becomes increasingly hug-oriented, these individuals feel increasingly uncomfortable, and frequently internalize the message that there is something wrong with them because they don’t want to be hugged. This is not a message that we want to convey to clients – or to anyone else, for that matter.
Before hugging a client, I suggest that mental health workers ask themselves two questions:
1. Am I absolutely certain that this client is OK with hugging? (Acquiescence to a perfunctory request for permission is not adequate.)
2. Am I doing this for the client or for myself?