Can greeting your therapist increase anxiety?

Apr 4, 2020Anxiety

Can greeting your therapist increase anxiety?

I’m always thinking about reducing anxiety for clients. Today I’m going to reflect on the process of greeting clients and clients greeting me. As so many clients come to me with different backgrounds and traditions, I want to think about how can I make meetings easier for anxious people?

I’ll start by telling you something about me. I love travelling and meeting new people. I believe that this compliments my work as a counsellor, hypnotherapist and trainer as its important for me to try and understand people, their customs and behaviours. This is so I can be respectful, build rapport and help them with all the skills that I have gathered over the years. It’s about learning how to communicate in the right way.

Today I was reflecting on greeting rituals and wondering how things might change after the Coronavirus pandemic. Will I continue to shake hands with my face to face clients when I first meet them? Will they want to shake hands with me? Will this set up any anxiety for me or my clients? I specialise in helping people reduce stress and anxiety, so I don’t want to make people feel more anxious.

Some of my previous clients have liked to hug me or kiss be on the cheek when meeting or ending sessions. Many clients over the years have liked to hug after they have finished treatment as they feel so much better and want to express their gratitude.  I understand that, but this didn’t always feel so comfortable for me as I’m British and usually shake hands.

Online Hypnotherapy and Counselling

So, will things change for me? I have decided that I will continue to do as I am doing while providing online hypnotherapy and counselling for clients. When clients contact me for online hypnotherapy or counselling, I have already found out something about them through a free initial consultation, and they will have gathered information about me and how I work from our discussions and more from my website. Online hypnotherapy and counselling are effective if both parties work together.

With my online clients, I greet them verbally in a friendly and professional way. Building a good relationship with my clients is important to me as I am often dealing with very personal or sensitive issues that require confidentiality and compassion.  Of course, my body language is important when providing online services as I aim to be congruent and continue to show people my integrity and passion for doing a good job. On reflection, I think I will continue to help clients online and face to face. Greeting online clients is fine.

At the heart of the hypnotherapy and counselling professions, good communication is vital whichever way the service is provided. Greetings are just methods of communication. They are often greeting rituals and are based on class, age, religion and culture. Being British, the handshake is what I have used until Coronavirus, and social isolation was enforced. Interestingly I have never thought about this before a recent trip to Australia.

What happened to make me think about greetings and anxiety?

My first awareness of greeting rituals happened a few weeks ago when I was attending a hypnotherapy conference in Australia. I held out my hand to shake someone’s hand, and they said lets’ bump’, and they offered me their fist. We briefly touched fists. I knew why this person greeted me that way. She was thinking about the Coronavirus. I was fine with that, and we had a lovely conversation.

Later I washed my hands. Washing hands has always been high on my essential good hygiene list, so I have always done it a lot. I can thank my nursing training for that good habit!

How did I feel?

I felt fine as all the people I was meeting were amazing, and it was so good to share hypnotherapy knowledge and skills. I felt very lucky to attend a hypnotherapy conference on the other side of the world.

I know how infection travels, and I already knew the importance of building one’s own resistance by eating good food and taking responsibility for mental and physical wellbeing. I was not anxious about being in another country during the start of the pandemic.

What have I learnt about greeting rituals?

Everyone who knows me knows that I always want to research new things. I want to make sure that I’m well informed, and that helps me to provide a better hypnotherapy and counselling service for my clients. Here are the things I have discovered about greeting rituals.

Shaking hands

There are many forms of handshake greeting. Some people gab the hand then pump up and down three times. Some people shake hands by clasping both hands around the other person’s hand. Some people give eye contact while others don’t. The Botswana handshake involves several different clasping movements. People from Zimbabwe clap hands or squeeze thumbs. In the USA, fist bumping or Hi-fives is more common. Some societies also have secret handshakes.

The amount of time that a person holds hands when greeting is interesting. In my practice, some people demonstrate a warm and grateful stance when they shake hands and hold my hand for a little longer. Nervous people often have a weak handshake, and it might be a bit sweaty while confident and assertive people grip well. I have noted that some cultures have a longer hand shaking period.


It’s common for Europeans and Latin Americans to kiss when they first meet. Some cultures kiss on the left cheek, then the right cheek. Others go back to kissing the left cheek again. Some people also touch cheeks and kiss in the air. Eskimos kiss and touch noses, sucking the air in as they go.

Nose touching

There are several different types of nose touching as a means of greeting someone. In my hypnotherapy and counselling business, I do not touch clients without their consent, and I haven’t encountered a nose touching ritual greeting.

Maoris from New Zealand believe that they share the breath of life when they touch noses. This is called Hongi. Inuit cultures also press noses together and sniff. This is called Kunik. In the Polynesian island of Tuvalu they have a version called Sogi. In Oman, men kiss the others nose when greeting.

Head touching

Some Filipinos put their hand on the forehead of the person that they are greeting. This often happens when greeting older people. This practice is called Mano. Although I have met many wonderful Filipinos during my career as a nurse, I have not seen a greeting like this.


Bowing is very common in eastern and western cultures. In Thailand, they place two hands together like praying when they bow. The hands are kept at chest height. This greeting is called Wai. Variations of this are found in other cultures. Some cultures don’t use their hands and just nod their head while others bow and bend from the waist. In India, this might go further in some areas by the person touching the other persons feet who they are bowing down towards.

Bowing shows respect when greeting Royalty. For example, women curtsy while men bow.

I have had several clients bow when they have met me in my face to face practice in Bournemouth.


Saluting is usually confined to the military. It’s respectful and observes the hierarchy. I have had previous clients joke and salute me when they have combatted their problem.

More unusual greeting rituals

In Tibet, people greet by sticking their tongue out at the other person. Maasi tribes in Kenya or Tanzania greet by spitting at the person or by spitting on the palms of their own hands before reaching out to the other person.

Why am I thinking so much about reducing anxiety with greetings?

Reflecting on practice is what professional hypnotherapists and counsellors do to improve practice. As a hypnotherapist, counsellor and supervisor providing online services, I have never considered the benefits of infection control that online help can offer. Now not only can clients save on travelling costs, they have home comfort, convenience and expertise from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, they can now feel that they are doing something to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce the transmission of infections. All I need to do now is to ensure that my verbal greeting online is welcoming and understood.

In conclusion, greetings should never be anxiety-provoking. Clients should not feel anxious when they first meet me, rather they should feel excited that at last, they are getting the help that they need.

So, if you are considering hypnotherapy or counselling for anxiety such as anxiety about the future, health anxiety, or anxiety related to an exam, public speaking or a fear or phobia find out more and contact me online.

But if you want to work on your own there is also the option of accessing hypnosis online through self hypnosis downloads. Find out more on my hypnosis download pages.

When restrictions are over, I will also be greeting clients to my office again.

With kind regards


Awaken the Change is about Focusing Minds for Positive Results

Awaken the Change is a self-help service providing education and information.

Linda sees clients at her practice in Bournemouth, in the UK. She is also happy to provide online help via webcam for hypnotherapy, counselling and supervision. Counselling and supervision can also be provided by telephone.

Linda is an accredited trainer and supervisor.

Linda Witchell
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