How To Handle Gifts For Therapists

Everyone appreciates a good gift, but when it’s coming from a client at your therapy practice, they tend to have a few strings attached. Accepting a gift from a client isn’t always a simple matter of saying thanks and moving on.

Is It Appropriate To Accept A Gift From A Client?

Accepting a gift from a client can cause some ethical complications. The client-therapist relationship might seem like a close one, but it doesn’t run on the same rules as a bond outside the clinical boundaries.

You might accept it during the moment only to later realize you’ve blurred the boundaries. On the other hand, you might reject a gift that, with time and consideration, you were comfortable accepting.

For some therapists, the easiest choice is setting a hard “No” and refusing all gifts. For others, deciding case-by-case can work better, allowing a nuanced approach.

Setting A Hard Line

Many therapists prefer to refuse any gifts from clients. This means no client feels singled out by the policy. If you do decide to reject all gifts, discuss this with your patients in advance of the holiday season.

On the other hand, you might decide to accept any gifts that a client offers you. In this scenario, it’s often worth discussing with patients what gifts are considered appropriate. This can help you avoid feeling forced to accept inappropriate gifts.

A Case-By-Case Basis

Hard lines might work for some, but in other situations, a flexible approach is appropriate.

For example, if you often work with children, a hard “No” can seem harsh. If a child offers you a handmade gift, turning it down can damage your relationship. However, if the child tries to give you an expensive gift (clearly chosen by a parent), you’ll need to act with care.

In addition, while many clients will be comfortable hearing you can’t accept a gift, others might take it as an insult. A client who has struggled with feeling appreciated, for example, will potentially be upset by you refusing the gift.

There are a few factors to consider when deciding whether to accept a gift or not:

  • How will accepting or refusing the gift be perceived by the client?
  • How will accepting or refusing the gift alter the client-therapist relationship?
  • What do you think motivated the client to give the gift?
  • What is the gift? How much did it cost and is it appropriate?

Be Prepared To Discuss Your Choice

If you plan on refusing gifts or setting limits to the gifts you can accept, be prepared to explain your choice. If you have to tell a client you can’t take their thoughtful offering, explaining your thought process can do a lot to prevent hurt feelings.

Setting a blanket “No” can seem prohibitive, but it’s often the easiest method. You can simply explain to a client that you refuse all gifts and that it’s not a personal comment.

However, this strict ruling might not be right for your practice. A looser approach, assessing each gift based on the type of gift and the client might work better. In this scenario, you need to have an honest and open discussion with the client about your choice.

It can be awkward to bring up gifts before they’ve been offered—it might be seen as presumptuous. But if you are setting a hard “No”, then it’s worth initiating the conversation. You don’t have to explain your reasoning (unless it’s asked for), simply mention that with the holidays coming up, you have a “no gifts” policy.

Not Sure? Ask For Help

Gift-giving is a tricky subject and there are no clear and easy guidelines. An appropriate gift from one client might be overstepping boundaries from another.

You don’t have to face the problem alone. Reach out to colleagues and others in your professional space for guidance. They can provide new insights and help you decide what actions are right for you.

What Is An Appropriate Gift For A Therapist?

When deciding whether or not to accept a gift from a client, the question of appropriateness is closely linked to the client. However, there are certain guidelines you can follow when determining what to accept.

Keep To A Budget

A gift for a therapist should be a sign of appreciation, not a grand gesture. The client, or their insurance, is already paying for therapy. An expensive gift can create an uncomfortable expectation.

Less expensive gifts come with fewer obligations. They (mostly) avoid the expectation that giving the gift can result in preferential treatment.

Avoid Anything Too Personal

Gifts in the self-care and therapy space can be a thoughtful gesture when shopping for a therapist. Aromatherapy candles, self-care journals, and bath salts are inexpensive and well-meaning.

But a therapy-focused gift can also cross a boundary. The latest book on trauma could be a recognition of an interest, but it can come across as pointed.

Similarly, a gift related to a hobby can be uncomfortably personal. Avoid gifts that seem too focused on the client-therapist relationship outside of a clinical setting.

A Gift For The Office

Instead of singling out the therapist for a gift, a better gesture can be something the entire office can enjoy. It’s less personal while still acknowledging the importance of the relationship.

Food gifts are an easy choice. Chocolates or cookies are likely to be appreciated by most members of the office, while a selection of coffee beans acknowledges the long hours many therapists keep!


A client offering a gift to a therapist is relatively commonplace. This is a relationship built on trust and respect, so when the holiday season rolls around, a gift can seem like a good way to acknowledge this unique bond.

Accepting a gift as a therapist can be ethically complex. Consider the appropriateness of the gift and the effect acceptance or rejection will have on the relationship.

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