Pasadena City College, Home of the PCC Lancers

WAC/Health Sciences

Appropriate Touching

Have you ever noticed how some people feel more comfortable touching than others?  Some people come from families or cultures with lots of hugging, pats on the arm, or other physical contact.  Others feel uncomfortable with this sort of touching unless they are with a close friend or relative. 

Necessary Touching

Obviously, the caregiver needs to touch the patient to do procedures.  The basic duties of health care professionals require that they touch patients, often in ways that might make a person physically or emotionally uncomfortable.  Most health care providers use the strategy of describing in objective terms what they are doing and how they will touch the patient so that the patient’s anxiety is reduced, which will reduce their discomfort.  For instance, you might say, “I am going to give you a shot and you will feel a slight prick.”

Therapeutic Touching

Sometimes the health care provider wants to offer therapeutic touch as a way to comfort a patient.  You might feel the urge to give a pat on the back or even a hug to a patient, especially if the person is in pain or you have worked with them for a long time.  Generally, it is best to refrain from touching a patient unless you have to do so for a medical procedure, because you might misjudge their attitude about touching and make them uncomfortable.  Even if they do not say anything about it, they may still not like to have that pat on the back or hug from someone who is not family.

If you come from a culture where touching others is commonplace, you might not see that your own cultural and personal values are affecting your assessment of the situation.  As you get more experience in your profession, you will most likely develop your own style for expressing your compassion, and it may involve some touch, but for now, try to express your feelings in other ways.

What Other Ways Can You Make a Patient Feel More Comfortable?

  • Greet them in a genuine way that shows you recognize their situation.  The standard, “How are you today?” greeting will not work with a patient who is clearly in pain, for instance.  Try to greet patients in a friendly but realistic way that shows you recognize them as a person.
  • Take a moment to ask the patient if there is anything that might make them more comfortable.  Give them specific options:  “Would you like a glass of water?” or “Would you like me to open or close the window?”  Such specific statements show that you are thinking about their needs and that you do care about them.
  • If they are in pain, acknowledge it and tell them that you think they are being brave.
  • Let them know they that you have a few minutes to listen if they feel the need to talk.
  • If you are in a hospital setting and you already know their religious background, ask if they would like to have a visit from a chaplain.