The price of a gift: an approach to receiving gifts from patients in psychiatric practice

Harv Rev Psychiatry. Mar-Apr 2007;15(2):43-51. doi: 10.1080/10673220701298399.


When a patient or patient's family presents a psychiatrist with a gift, the clinician is challenged to maintain appropriate professional boundaries but have the flexibility to respond with warmth and appreciation. The psychiatrist must consider such factors as the intention of the gift, its value to the patient, and the anticipated effect of accepting or refusing it on the patient and the treatment. Psychiatric practitioners are ethically obligated to consider patients' best interests when deciding about how to handle the offer of a gift. Ethical deliberations about such situations occur on a case-by-case basis and require careful analysis of how to promote the patient's best interest while adhering to professional ethics. In this article, members of the McLean Hospital Ethics Committee present a pragmatic model for managing the presentation of a gift from a patient or a patient's family member. The pragmatic model, which focuses on the practical results of accepting or declining the gift, minimizes the risk of exploiting the patient by accepting a gift or hurting the patient by declining it. We present five clinical cases that raise ethical dilemmas concerning patient gift giving in psychiatry and discuss each case from the standpoint of the pragmatic model.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Ethics Committees
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Gift Giving / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Professional-Family Relations / ethics
  • Psychiatry / ethics*
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy / ethics
  • Rejection, Psychology
  • Symbolism
  • Transference, Psychology