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Page Contents: Should you give a gift to your psychotherapist?                    


Could you suggest an appropriate gift for Christmas for my therapist; I have been in analysis for the past year.

The relationship you have with your psychotherapist is not like any other relationship you will ever have with anyone else—except, perhaps, another psychotherapist. It’s a special relationship in which you learn how to be emotionally honest with another person while paying that person to teach you how to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from being honest.

So, as long as your psychotherapist is being honestly paid, there is nothing more you can give him or her except your gratitude.

In this context, then, a gift—any gift—serves only to bypass the emotional vulnerability of expressing your gratitude verbally. Consequently, a gift can be seen technically as a form of the psychological defense mechanism called acting out. That is, by offering a gift, you expect it to “say” what you fear saying openly and honestly.

Now, you might claim that you have no problem expressing your gratitude and that you simply want the gift to be something more tangible than mere thanks. But, as odd as it might sound, this sort of yearning for something tangible leads ultimately to many psychological problems. All emotions are essentially intangible. Even the greatest emotion of all—true love—has no “reward” but itself. Love is the reward of love. There is an agony as well as a bliss to this fact. The agony derives from our existential human lack, a lack grounded in our physical and spiritual separation from each other, a lack that can be bridged symbolically in language but never closed by any human effort in any tangible form. And it’s in our desperation to avoid that agony of our lack that we seek out tangible reassurances of “connection” to others and thus fall headlong into all the perversions that appear to bring us closer to others and yet endlessly miss the point about real love.

Any psychotherapist who has been well-trained, therefore, has been trained to refuse all gifts within the psychotherapy and, in refusing them, to get to the point that the client, in offering the gift, is trying to avoid.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco
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