With Christmas upon us, gifts from our clients can become an issue. I have posted on this earlier but was just revisiting a great paper on this by Helen Spandler and others. This paper is now free online.
The Spandler et al paper is a great one and covers the issue of gift giving in psychotherapy extensively. In rereading this, of particular interest to me, was the section on whether we as therapists unconsciously elicit gifts from our clients. Money quote:
It would appear that therapists generate their own specific gift patterns. While one respondent reported being offered what were the two ‘biggest’ gifts in the study, most respondents reported receiving gifts rarely. There were a number of examples of therapists reporting no gifts. One retired female therapist claimed she received no gifts after thirty-five years of therapeutic work, and another only twice in twenty years’ practice. Yet, on the other hand, some therapists reported a number of examples of gifts. We could speculate: are therapists who receive many gifts ‘better therapists’? Alternatively are therapists who rarely receive gifts those who are able to ‘contain’ the therapy so that the therapy itself is ‘enough’? As one therapist asked: ‘Do we unconsciously invite gifts?’ Clearly, such matters depend on the particular ‘take’ or interpretation of therapeutic approach, which in turn may relate to the personality/background of the therapist. However, responses highlighted other factors involved in evaluating the gift, including the mobilization of gender dynamics.
This can lead to complex unconscious patterns when groups of therapists work together. The person receiving the most gifts in the group practice can feel guilty, the rest can feel envious.
While we are on the topic, one of my favourite Christmas gift stories. I can remember one year receiving a book of crossword puzzles from one of my client’s prior to leaving for a three week Christmas holiday. Although we had explored the issue of how she felt about me being away she denied being angry at me. It took me a number of minutes to understand the real meaning of her gift: cross words = angry words.