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May Counselors Accept Gifts from Their Patients?

When counselors receive gifts from their patients, there is a long list of consequences that have to be considered before accepting the present. The reason why is that gifts in counseling are a very touchy subject that requires some extensive weighing of all the benefits and downsides. So, should experts accept patients’ gifts? Well, most ethical boards and experienced professionals are strongly against it. Those who may still feel inclined to accept, however, are not going to be breaking any formal rules.

Before you give a gift or accept a gift, let’s break this town. How does this affect both parties? What are the “rules”? What is the most professional thing to do here?

Always Analyze the Impact on the Patient

The primary focus of a counselor-patient relationship always needs to fall on the patient. The reason why is that they are the ones who are paying for the service that will hopefully allow them to meet personal objectives. When things like gifts become involved, although they pertain to the counselor as well, the consequences on the patient still need to be prioritized. That means taking a very close look and determining exactly what the person who is giving the gift expects to get out of the venture. If they have underlying intentions, the counselor should be able to decipher them and respond appropriately. For example, if someone who is in therapy to overcome boundary issues gifts an extremely personal item, it might a good time to re-assess the progress and establish some in-session guidelines.

The Role of the Gift on the Relationship

If there is even the slightest chance of the gift impacting the authority of the counselor, it should be declined. The key to helping a patient in the long-run is to have enough professional jurisdiction to give them tangible advice that they will adhere to. Once the patient stops seeing the counselor as a person of significant authority, it may be borderline impossible to aid them. Gifts of extreme monetary value tend to fall in this category.

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The Monetary Value

As per the American Counseling Association’s official Code of Ethics, monetary value is one of the three vital factors that go into the analysis of every gift. That means that the counselor will have to do their best to try and estimate how much certain items cost. The more that the patient spent on the present, the more difficult it will be to take possession of it. This is because the aforementioned authority may be undermined and the patient might showcase some follow-up expectations from the counselor. Professionals should always address things of this nature early in the relationship. For instance, telling a new patient that absolutely no gifts are ever going to be accepted significantly reduces the odds of facing a difficult situation.

Patient’s Motivation for Giving a Gift

Finally, the counselor must assess the patient’s motivation for giving the gift. If they simply want to express genuine gratitude, the risk of future problems is very low. Sometimes, however, patients may use gifts to advance their objectives or because such behavior is consistent with their long-term issues. The counselor must inspect exactly what the person had in mind when they decided to give the present.

While some overall guidelines exist, every situation is going to be different because no two patients are the same. So, while the preferred course of action is to decline the gift, some counselors may actually improve the relationship by accepting whatever someone wants to give them.

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