Way Too Personal
A Hug-Free Zone?
Since it's part of an in-depth review of the Code of Conduct, the APA's code
on sexual relationships won't change for two to three years, if at all. Members
are expected to comment on the proposed change by the end of this year. The
final decision will be made by the APA Council of Representatives, which
includes its board of directors and state and regional representatives.
But, in the meantime, the issue is stirring up controversy within the ranks
of psychologists. The threat of lawsuits, the already strong language in the
APA code, and the general litigiousness of society have prompted many
therapists to erect barriers between themselves and their patients when it
comes to any physical contact. No more hugs for a sobbing patient. No
encouraging pats on the back. Even friendly chitchat outside office walls is
"I used to not have any social contact with former patients for two
years, but now I don't do it at all," says Lack. "It's just too
The Case for Dual Relationships
But Ofer Zur, Ph.D., a private-practice therapist in Sonoma, CA, is leading
a fight to support "dual relationships" -- patient-therapist bonds that
never turn sexual but are nonetheless close and nurturing. "Most of our
clients suffer from detached and cold parents," he says. "So how can we
fathom that detached, cold therapists might be able to heal those
He contends that sympathetic hugs very rarely lead to sexual advances, and
small-town living has convinced him that you can play on the same softball team
with a patient outside the office.
"I believe it's time for patients to file lawsuits against therapists
who act in an indecent, uncaring, or inhumane way when they do not hug a
grieving mother or anyone else who is in pain," he says.
But Zur is in the minority. The trend is toward more detachment from
therapists, he and Lack agree. How this may affect the therapeutic process will
take years to discover.