On one of the permaculture Facebook groups I frequent, there has been a discussion about hugging and how many people are uncomfortable about it in general or in particular with those whom they don’t feel very close to. The original post came about because the poster attended an event where there seemed to be a culture that it was OK to hug anyone even if they had never met before. Possibly he was singled out because he is well known in the field and one I certainly see as a respected teacher and someone I can learn a lot from.
My own feelings on this subject is informed by my experiences of working at in-patient adolescent mental health units. One where there was a culture that hugging was OK and another where it most certainly was not. Paradoxically it was the one where it was not that a predatory staff member abused clients and subsequently went to prison.
I fully accept that this could have happened at the unit where there was a culture that it was OK to hug patients if they wanted it. However the big difference wasn’t the rule but the fact that at the unit where it was OK it was talked about on a regular basis. If any particular pairing between a client and a patient seemed to be hugging a lot, it would be discussed whichever of the pair was initiating it. Indeed it could well be one of the patients who brought up the subject.
In the unit where it was not OK, not only was it not discussed but it happened out of sight. Mostly female but not only female staff would give a hug if a patient in distress wanted it but not in a public area. Making it hidden made the predatory staff member more likely to get away with it.
Now as a massage and aromatherapy practitioner, do I hug my clients?
With the vast majority of them the answer is, “No, I do not.” However if it is initiated by the client I do. However this is quite rare except with the clients I know personally outside of our professional relationship. Even though there is a considerable degree of intimacy and trust in allowing someone to massage one, hugging can still be seen as sexual. I am not saying I would never ask a client if they wanted a hug if they were upset by either the reason they came for an appointment or something that was triggered during the session but just as my clients are totally in control over what parts of their bodies are massaged and which are not, (actually not complete control, there are areas I wouldn’t massage even if asked!) they are in the driving seat when it comes to deciding if a hug is right for them or not.