I often get gifts from clients – can I keep them?

Answer provided by contributing expert, Brandon Haydon, LCSW.

This can be an ethical dilemma, as we want to preserve the importance of human relationships and honor the intentions and goodwill or clients, but protect our professionalism and respect their vulnerability through maintaining boundaries. As with most ethical dilemmas, first review the NASW Code of Ethics – that may help you answer the question for you. Secondly consult your agency’s policy on gifts, if they have one. Third, seek supervision – you do not have to make such decisions alone!

As a somewhat of a baseline rule, many social workers will not accept gifts valued at more than $5 if they are purchased. Handmade items are often accepted (a painting, a crocheted piece of art, a mix-tape, etc). Consider what the gift means for the client and try to openly process that – being sure to consider cultural factors around gift-giving. Be transparent about boundaries and why they exist (to protect the client-worker relationship!)

Always validate the client’s feelings about the gift – emphasize the importance and receipt of that, to take the positive emphasis off of the gift and onto the intention of giving.

When in doubt, if you feel uncomfortable taking the gift and are struggling with turning the client down, defer to agency policy or your professional rules of practice.

Answer provided by contributing expert, Brandon Haydon, LCSW:

Brandon Haydon, LCSW is an expert contributor to MSWcareers.com and currently works at the LifeWorks Psychotherapy Center in Chicago. Lifeworks is an explicitly inclusive practice welcoming clients of all ages, ethnicities, races, spiritual practices and religious traditions, genders and sexualities.