Giving and Receiving Gifts as a Therapist
As we enter the holiday season, many therapists and health professionals come face to face with the issue of giving and receiving gifts for patients.
While gift-giving often comes from the pure desire to show appreciation, gratitude and follow holiday ritual, when it comes to the relationship between a doctor and patient, there are boundaries to consider before giving and accepting gifts. Gift giving (especially this time of year) is often connected to deep emotional aspects of guilt, generosity, sacrifice, reciprocity, and self-value, so depending on the nature of your sessions, this process may be delicate.
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Consider your rules ahead of time
As a therapist, it’s a good idea to consider your rules for gift giving and receiving beforehand so that you can craft an appropriate response.
A blanket rule of no gifts may be unnecessarily cold for many of your patients. With that said, try to map out some rules you can follow on a case by case basis of whether or not it’s appropriate to give or receive a gift from your patients.
The issue of receiving
Many therapists are taught the rule that they should not accept anything from a client other than session fees to avoid fostering any sort of conflict of interest.
For many patients, a gift can mean a cry for acceptance of self-value. As a therapist, it’s important to set these boundaries beforehand and if a patient shows up with a gift, to discuss the meaning of the gift before accepting it. If the gift has strong emotional ties stemming from a desire to gain acceptance, favor, or value, it may be more appropriate to decline the gift after discussing the reason why it is not appropriate in this instance.
If the gift is given out of holiday tradition and custom with the desire to show gratitude and appreciation and does not have the potential to damage your working relationship, you may decide it’s appropriate to accept.
It is up to you to determine as a mental health professional whether such gift-giving is an opportunity to strengthen a warm, working relationship or encourage reflection and insight as to what the motives behind the gift might be.
The issue of giving
On the other hand, giving gifts presents a similar set of questions. If you choose to give gifts to your patients, be prepared to express the reasoning behind your gift as well as a firm understanding that your client should not feel bad if they did not, in turn, give a gift to you.
Some appropriate gifts you might consider giving to clients:
- A meaningful card
- A rock as a transitional gift (if you have an office rock collection)
- A therapy-related book or CD that you think might resonate especially well with a client
- A token to serve as a reminder or support
Ultimately it is up to you to read the context of the gift-giving situation. For most people, gift-giving is a positive experience and it can strengthen your bond between yourself and your client as long as you are mindful of the context of the situation.
What are your tips on handling gift giving and receiving for therapists? Share with us in the comment section below!
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