Tuesday, December 06, 2011

What to Get Your Psychiatrist for the Holidays


This is an update of a Shrink Rap post that originally was posted in 2006.  Seems like a good time for a re-run.

Sarebear mentioned some time ago that she didn't know what to get her psychiatrist for the holidays. I thought about this and decided the answer is easy:

Give your psychiatrist a holiday card and write something meaningful and kind in it. Say, "Thanks for helping me." Or "I'm glad you're in my life." "You're the best psychiatrist in the world" works nicely, too. If you hate your psychiatrist and for inexplicable reasons feel compelled to get them something anyway, then skip the note and just give a generic Seasons Greetings card.

Don't get your psychiatrist an expensive gift. And don't, not even as a joke, give your psychiatrist money-- unless you're paying an overdue bill-- and don't  make comments about a holiday "tip."

So gifts and shrinks are often an unsettling combination. As psychiatrists, we're taught that treatment is offered for a fee. End of discussion and anything more represents a violation of boundaries. Psychiatrists-in-training are told not to accept gifts, and psychotherapists as a whole are taught to try to understand behaviors that skim the usual boundaries. So, theoretically, the psychiatrist should refuse the gift and explore with the patient what meaning the gift, the refusal, the whole exchange, has to the patient.

When residents ask me what to do when patients want to give them gifts, I say "Tell them the program has rules that say you're not allowed to accept gifts." This is the truth and the resident risks getting in trouble if they do accept gifts. If you can't take a pen from a drug rep anymore, why should you be allowed to take a timeshare from a patient? Okay, I made that up, I've never heard of a patient gifting a resident with a timeshare, but we can all have fantasies, right?

I'm in private practice, there's no program director, I make the rules. When a patient gives me a gift, I accept it and say, "Thank you." Why? Because it seems intentionally hurtful to do otherwise-- I assume it has meaning to the patient, that their feelings will be hurt if I refuse the gift, that the patient has taken the time, effort, and money to pick out a gift and this represents something meaningful to him and that it might be painful to have this refused. While the act of giving a gift might have a multitude of meanings, depending on the gift, depending on the patient's illness, depending on the circumstances, I just can't find a way to say No that would feel anything other than rejecting. So I accept the gift and thank the patient, and if the gift is edible, I eat it. This is the thing though: while I've decided that this is the way to go, at least so far for me within the realm of my own practice, I always feel like I'm doing something wrong by accepting a gift.  Training issues remain in the back of my head, and I'd really rather just have a card that says I'm the best psychiatrist in the world.

Disclaimer in honor of other non-shrink physicians: Doctors in other specialties have no such concerns with accepting gifts. They probably don't want anything that taxes your budget. Food is usually good, a bottle of wine, a plant, candles, all will do nicely, and no doctor expects gifts from their patients.