A double-edged sword: understanding gifts in psychotherapy

Spandler, Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0970-5141, Burman, Erica, Goldberg, Brenda, Margison, Frank and Amos, Tim (2000) A double-edged sword: understanding gifts in psychotherapy. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 3 (1). pp. 77-101. ISSN 1364-2537

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13642530050078574


This paper discusses the range of interpretative and communicational meanings accorded the giving and receiving of gifts within the psychotherapeutic encounter. It forms a first report of the qualitative analysis of an open-ended survey on this topic completed by eighty British psychotherapists. When a gift was given, as well as what it was, informed the meanings conferred upon it by therapists. These meanings included aggression as well as gratitude or (negotiation of) dependency. The study identified a range of experience and practices around receiving and interpreting gifts which prompts questions about their unconscious elicitation, but also militates against specifying prescriptive guidelines for practice. Attending to the gendered and cultural relations elaborated through these reports of gifts invites a more nuanced discussion of gift giving as acting out (or acting in) within therapy. Moreover, beyond issues of the relative ‘health’ or ‘inappropriateness’ of gifts, it is suggested that more general questions arise through the evaluation of gift giving. These concern the relationship between therapy as a specific cultural site and the broader practices within which it is situated.

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