therapist leaves

What to Do When Your Therapist Takes a Leave – Featured in HuffPost

We’re happy to announce that we got featured in HuffPost’s article: “How to Deal When Your Therapist Goes on Leave”. This is an important topic that is not so often addressed, and we’re glad we had an opportunity to talk about it. Read the whole article HERE.

A relationship between a therapist and a client is often incredibly deep. Leaving such a strong and meaningful connection, even if it’s just for a few weeks or months, can feel disorienting. Hence, it’s useful to know some coping strategies and practical steps to get yourself back on track. HuffPost’s article covered it really nicely, but here are also some additional tips on how to deal with your therapist’s (short or long-term) leave.

Develop a plan of action together in case of a mental health emergency

The leave of your therapist might mean that, in stressful situations where you urgently need mental health support and guidance, you won’t be able to reach them as easy as when they’re regularly working or they won’t be available at all. It is important to prepare for such situations and develop a plan for it beforehand.

This means identifying potential stressors and triggers and making a list of coping strategies you can utilize. From discussing who you should contact depending on the severity of the situation (another therapist from their practice, your support network, an emergency room, etc.), to using specific skills you’ve learned in your therapy sessions, you should try to make this plan as detailed as possible. You may not need to use it, but it’s smart to have it just in case. Besides, making such a plan with your therapist may help reduce your anxiety by making you feel a little bit more ready for what may be ahead.

coping strategies when psychotherapist leaves

Prepare for the possibility that the transition to a new therapist may not feel emotionally smooth

Most therapists will announce their leave well in advance. They will most often offer to refer you to their colleague while they’re away, so you can prepare for the change.

However, starting a relationship with a new therapist may feel uncomfortable at first. When someone knows your deepest thoughts, feelings, needs, your past, and your struggles, it can be difficult to start it all over again with someone new. Thus, prepare for a possibility that the first session or two with a covering therapist may not feel as comfortable and familiar as with your regular therapists. Give yourself some time to adjust to the new environment. However, if after a few sessions your gut still tells you it’s not the right fit, give yourself permission to find another one. That’s why it may be a wise idea to ask your current therapist to recommend a couple of their colleagues instead of just one, so it can be easier to find what works best for you.

If after a while you still aren’t sure whether your emotions toward a new therapist are “off” because of this transition or due to some other factors, THIS article may give you some clarification.

See it as an opportunity to practice skills and strengths you’ve developed in therapy

If you’re seeing your therapist for a long time, you must have learned a lot. You developed some behaviours, skills, and thinking strategies you didn’t know before.

Although your therapist’s leave can be a pretty scary thing, it’s also a space to consolidate your gains and see how far you’ve come so far. It’s a great opportunity to practice your psychological coping skills on your own and get to know yourself even better. Having a break from therapy can help you assess your progress and also evaluate areas where you’re still struggling and need to continue to work on.

The most important thing while your therapist is away is to continue practicing what you have learned in therapy, whether it’s with a new therapist or on your own.

what therapy is, and is not.

What Therapy Is, and Is Not.

How do you feel about therapy? Is it something that is scary for you, or something you expect to solve or your problems? Or is it something you see as a tool for exploring yourself? Unfortunately, many people don’t have an accurate picture of what psychotherapy and counseling are all about and what they can actually get from it. Consequentially, there are clients who, due to their false expectations, just give up from therapy after one or two sessions. On the other hand, there are therapists who simply don’t provide what they should provide for their clients.

For these reasons, we want to clarify what therapy is, and is not. What can you expect from psychotherapy and what it should provide? Learning this will help you get the most out of your counseling sessions and have realistic expectations. Additionally, you’ll be able to recognize if you should, maybe, change your therapist.

Here is an extraordinarily helpful article on this matter: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2016/08/what-therapy-is-is-not-10-considerations/. Tamara Hill shares some useful guidelines on what characterizes good therapy, as well as what therapy shouldn’t be.

Therapy is…

  1. Teamwork and partnership
  2. Open
  3. Supportive
  4. Equal but with professional boundaries
  5. Authentic

Therapy is Not…

  1. Competitive
  2. Defensive
  3. Exploitative
  4. Suffocating
  5. Forceful

The psychotherapeutic process almost always includes change, and change can be uncomfortable. Even if you find yourself falling into some of the last 5 behaviors, don’t worry; sometimes, these feelings are normal for certain stages in psychotherapy. A good therapist will work with you on your feelings and you’ll together try to find where they’re coming from. As long as it’s not your permanent view or constant behavior on your sessions, there is no reason for serious concerns.

Lastly, Rollo May sums up what therapy is and is not nicely:

“Therapy isn’t curing somebody of something; it is a means of helping a person explore himself, his life, his consciousness. My purpose as a therapist is to find out what it means to be human. Every human being must have a point at which he stands against the culture, where he says, ‘This is me and the world be damned!’ Leaders have always been the ones to stand against the society — Socrates, Christ, Freud, all the way down the line.”

– Rollo May