'Not a neutral event': clinical psychologists' experiences of gifts in therapeutic relationships.

Research paper by Bethanne B Willingham, Mary M Boyle

Indexed on: 01 Jun '11Published on: 01 Jun '11Published in: Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice


This study investigated clinical psychologists' experiences of gifts offered by clients in therapeutic relationships. Since limited prior research of gifts has been undertaken, the study was informed by an inter-disciplinary approach, drawing on theories of 'the gift' from anthropology, sociology, and psychoanalysis.A postal survey was undertaken on a 10% random sample of clinical psychologists living in the UK on the Register for Chartered Psychologists (Clinical Section) (N= 441). Responses to three open-ended questions were analysed qualitatively, using thematic analysis.The response rate to the questionnaire was 50.57% (N= 223). Three main themes were identified: (1) acceptance as the 'correct' response to a gift, (2) potency of the gift, and (3) the impact of policy on professional autonomy.The findings suggested that many participants viewed the gift as a way of the client reciprocating something that was given in the therapy. Within a Maussian account, this notion of reciprocity positions the therapeutic contact as the 'first gift'. Few gifts were refused and frequently occasioned pleasure in the participants. Although some givers were understood as needing to give because of ascribed intra-individual characteristics or 'psychopathology', normative gifting practices were commonly held to apply in therapeutic relationships. Further research should explore clients' perspectives on gifting.