The That means of a Handshake for a Psychotherapist

Our handshake conveys additional information and facts about us to many others than we assume, says an American examine I read a short while ago. Scientists at the University of Alabama rated the handshakes of 112 male and female university pupils for eight attributes: dryness, temperature, texture, power, vigour, completeness of grip, duration, and eye speak to. The subjects also concluded 4 identity questionnaires and the benefits were cross-matched. Scientists observed that handshakes are stable and reliable throughout time and gender. The examine concludes that handshake characteristics are relevant to both equally objective identity measures and to the impressions individuals sort about each individual other. 5 handshake qualities in distinct (toughness, vigour, period, eye get hold of and completeness of grip) ended up made use of to decide irrespective of whether a handshake was regarded as organization. The results confirm the widespread perception that people whose handshakes are firmer are much more extraverted and open up to practical experience and less neurotic and shy than those people with a significantly less agency or limp handshake, and this info about an personal is conveyed to many others when they shake hands.

The contributors to Touch Papers: Dialogues on Touch in the Psychoanalytic Area (Galton, 2006) discuss the that means and significance of several factors of physical speak to in the psychotherapy consulting place. Numerous contributors examine what it means for a psychoanalyst or psychotherapist to shake arms, or refrain from shaking palms, with a client. They remark that in the psychoanalytic local community in the United Kingdom there is a normal reluctance to shake arms with patients, except at times at the starting and close of therapy. Quite a few British psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists regard shaking palms with a affected person as physical make contact with which ought to prevented or held to a minimal mainly because it disrupts the transference marriage. We could also want to look at regardless of whether fears of seduction or engulfment may be aroused in a shopper (or therapist) by the actual physical call of a handshake. As Brett Kahr reminds us in Touch Papers, any actual physical interaction between two people today can cause unconscious memories of before physical interactions, specially people of a provocative or abusive nature.

Having said that, a handshake at the finish of a psychotherapy session can also be a signal of an enhanced potential for relation with some others. When I recently stated to a psychotherapist colleague that I was composing this report about handshakes in the consulting home, she advised me of a female customer she has been doing the job with for numerous several years. At the begin of procedure her affected individual had been an inpatient for 18 months and could barely discuss. They have never ever shaken arms until finally just lately when, at the conclude of the last session before the summer months split, the affected individual reached out and shook my colleague’s hand. This motion was recognized by them each as an expression of the patient’s rising capability for connecting and relating to some others and to herself.

In each day everyday living in the Uk and North The united states, soon after the initially assembly it is unusual to shake fingers with another person we satisfy consistently, in contrast to a lot of pieces of Europe and South The us, where it is usual for folks to shake hands every single time they meet up with and all over again at parting. Two of the contributors to Touch Papers, though they have lived and labored in the Uk for quite a few decades, arrived initially from other countries and cultures where handshaking is carried out much more routinely, even in psychoanalytic circles.

Maria Emilia Pozzi, who was born in Italy, writes in Touch Papers that her first psychoanalyst, in Switzerland, shook her hand at the beginning and stop of just about every session four periods a 7 days for various years. It was a shock when she met her to start with analyst in London, who by no means stood up nor shook her hand until finally the extremely previous session when she herself gathered her bravery and initiated a handshake, which she remembers was achieved by what felt like a marginally humiliated but responsive shake of the hand.

The psychoanalyst A. H. Brafman, who arrived to the Uk from Brazil, writes that he is amused to read through conversations that include things like handshaking as an illustration of touching the affected individual. He remembers his individual shock in his very first periods with his analyst in London when his handshakes prompted interpretations about the unconscious transferential meaning of this sort of behaviour. Even now, a lot of decades later, he remains unconvinced that he was expressing any unique unconscious want by his desire to shake palms.

Another contributor, the distinguished psychoanalyst Pearl King, who is now in her eighties, writes that she always presents people a welcoming handshake at the initially conference, believing it important to work from a culturally recognized foundation line. Nonetheless, the only other time she shakes the hand of her people is just after the very last session ahead of a lengthy split. It is a organization handshake, in her mind conveying to the affected individual that she is perfectly and will glance soon after herself while she and the patient are parted, since she is aware of that her clients have to rely on her not to do everything that could endanger her becoming there to carry on work with them when they return after the split.

The psychoanalyst Valerie Sinason writes in Contact Papers of a pretty unique kind of handshake when she visited an asylum on the Greek island of Leros some years ago. She describes moving into a large, chilly ward that smelled of excrement and in which bare and smeared individuals huddled jointly on previous iron beds. She strode throughout to one particular unique above-crowded mattress, launched herself, and held out her hand. From among the mass of human ache, a man with Down’s Syndrome untwisted himself and shook her hand. A calendar year later she met the very same young man in the initial team household for finding out disabled people in Athens. He opened the doorway when she rang the bell and they shook hands in an standard way. He was smartly dressed and took her on a tour of the house. Then he reported to her by way of an interpreter, “I don’t forget you. You shook my hand on Leros.”

If handshakes definitely do reveal as significantly about us as the American study concludes, possibly shaking palms with our psychotherapy consumers may well reveal extra about us than we want and so may perhaps effectively interfere with the transference marriage. On the other hand, if our customers truly can find out so much about us from our handshake, how a great deal a lot more may possibly we discover about them from their handshakes?


Galton, G. (2006). Contact Papers: Dialogues on Touch in the Psychoanalytic House. (London: Karnac).

This write-up was first posted in Karnac Evaluation, Problem 10

2006 Graeme Galton