Are Therapists Allowed to Accept Gifts from Patients?

After months or years, a patient may feel connected to their therapist and wonder, “Are therapists allowed to accept gifts from patients?” The answer to this depends on the value of the gift, the therapist’s employer and a few other factors. Understanding the answer to this question could help a patient avoid hurt feelings or an uncomfortable situation.

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Reason Behind the Gift

There are many reasons why a person might want to give their therapist a gift. Perhaps it is the holiday season, and the patient gives everybody from the mail carrier to the dog groomer a gift, and the therapist is just one person on their list. Maybe the person has reached a particular milestone in their life or in their therapy plan. The patient might want to honor that milestone by giving a gift to the therapist.

Types of Gifts That Might Be Allowed

A gift of monetary significance is generally disallowed by therapists and their professional associates. State licensing boards may also prohibit the therapist from giving or receiving a gift of monetary value with their patient. Any gift given to the therapist should have low to no monetary value. An example of an acceptable gift could be a handwritten note or card. Another item that could be accepted is a mandala or a painted stone made by the patient. These items have intrinsic value, but they could not be determined to have a monetary value.

Professional Ethics Codes and Gifts

According to Good Therapy, most therapists operate under a professional association or are state-licensed, and these governing bodies enforce a code of ethics. That code of ethics includes the giving and receiving of gifts between therapists and patients as well as from vendors or other outsiders to a therapist as it relates to their professional services. The American Psychological Association Code of Ethics explains that therapists need to avoid financial conflicts of interest. In the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, therapists are advised to consider the relationship, monetary value, and motivation for the giving of a gift between a patient and a therapist.

What a Gift Can Mean for the Professional Relationship

If it is the end of the therapy relationship, the giving of a symbolic gift such as a thank-you card or painted stone could be considered an act of closure. On the other hand, a patient attempting to give a gift of value to a therapist early on in the counseling relationship could be construed as seeking favor or manipulative. In most cases, a symbolic, low or no-value gift could be productive. An example of this is a child who draws a picture for the therapist and brings it to their next session, and the therapist hangs it on the wall.

It is natural to feel connected to someone when they help with problem-solving and coping with difficult situations. For people who express thanks through the giving of gifts, the question of whether or not to give one to a therapist is a touchy one. Knowing the answer to, “Are therapists allowed to accept gifts from patients?” could make it easier for a person to know what to do when they feel the urge to give a gift to a member of their mental health care team.