Is it ethical to give gifts to clients?

While gifts may seem appropriate between a person in therapy and their therapist, receiving and giving gifts can be a source of stress for the therapeutic relationship. It can impair therapeutic progress and can have serious consequences. Professional ethics codes generally warn therapists to give or receive gifts within a therapy relationship. For example, the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (201) advises counselors to consider the therapeutic relationship, the monetary value of gifts, and the motivation to accept or decline gifts from the people they serve, and the American Psychological Association Code of Ethics (20) requires that psychologists avoid personal and financial situations that could create a conflict of interest.

If it's an appropriate occasion to give a gift, such as a birthday or holiday, and you've included the above considerations, you'll most likely accept it. Whether you're dealing with people in your own organization, with a customer, or a supplier, there are rules about what you can and can't do, both financially and ethically, and it's important to have an appropriate policy in place to ensure that any gift or hospitality for employees or customers is appropriate and legal. Of course, this is difficult, since even the most well-intentioned gift is given both to consider your organization the next time a customer needs a quote, for example, and to express their appreciation. This is where it gets a little more complicated: if the gifts have no resale value, the amount they cost is used.

It can be unnecessarily complicated to explain why accepting the gift is a bad idea, especially if giving gifts is a significant part of that person's culture and refusing it would be counterproductive to the goals of therapy. A gift is acceptable if it functions as an infrequent expression of gratitude and does not result in economic benefit to the recipient. Cases of continuous or cumulative delivery or acceptance of gifts may rise to the level of a violation of this rule if the gifts become a regularly expected source of income or value for the recipient. It can be an important issue to consider when thinking about sending a bottle of wine to your customers for Christmas, which is generally harmless, but there comes a point where even a simple gift could be seen as a bribe.

While the new BACB Code of Ethics allows for nominal gifts, behavioral analysts still recognize the damage that accepting gifts can do to the growth of unwanted multiple relationships. While there are potential ethical pitfalls and complications to consider, there are also ways in which one could legitimately argue that gifts are potentially useful and culturally appropriate. Therefore, many behavioral professionals will find themselves in the awkward situation of having to refuse a gift offered by a client or the client's family. Any licensed mental health professional should be keenly aware of the potential ethical entanglements involved in giving, and it's up to the therapist to determine if giving a gift to a person in therapy can jeopardize or promote therapeutic growth.

Whether you're the one giving the gift or receiving it, think about the specific customer and the relationship the two of them have.