On Hand Holding

People sometimes talk about therapists – and maybe social workers in particular – as hand-holders. Back-patters. Glass-of-water-getters. As if that’s all we do, but also as if those things are fluff. Sometimes it *is* what we do. Sometimes it’s what our clients need. Sometimes it’s as simple – and as critical – as one hand resting on top of another.

The thing that brings 90% of clients through my door is a feeling of being stuck. Stuckness, it’s called (no really, look it up). And witnessing so much stuckness has me thinking about another form of hand holding. Over the past year I’ve held a client’s hand, figuratively, as they finally called a doctor’s office. Finally scheduled a top surgery. Finally booked a trip. Finally asked someone to prom. Finally ended a relationship. Finally stopped returning a call. Finally swiped right.

When someone goes sky diving for the first time (and this is one of my deep-seated fears, so we’ll keep the analogy brief), we don’t just send them hurtling out of the airplane by themselves. We send them hurtling (deep breaths, Phil) out of the plane strapped to someone else. Someone who’s a professional. Someone who’s done it before.

Never start an analogy you can’t finish, but eventually every skydiver (I think?) learns to fall on their own. They can’t strap themselves to a friend every time. And eventually they stop needing it.

Sometimes in my practice I am hesitant to do this kind of hand holding because my clinical instinct is, “No, they need to do this alone. If I hold their hand for the first one, they’ll never learn to do it on their own.” But as time goes on I realize it’s much more nuanced than this. True, clients can’t come to my office for every phone call, every travel booking, every right swipe. And that’s not what most would even want. But for that first one? The one that means the difference between Stuck and Unstuck? For that one, I am learning to allow myself the privilege of joining along for the ride. Because for each and every one of them so far, I’ve had the subsequent, absolute privilege and joy of sitting back and seeing them soar.

Sometimes we all need someone to hold our hand.