Summer is here, and so is vacation season. And just like the rest of us, therapists need to go on vacation too. But what does it mean for you when your therapist is out of office for an extended period of time?
Thankfully, it's likely that your therapist has already thought this through and has a contingency plan in place. How much notice they'll give you beforehand will vary from therapist to therapist, but Susanne Babbel, PhD, a therapist based in San Francisco, says she usually likes to give her patients four weeks notice.
"I make sure not to start working on new material so that my patients are not left with feelings that could be too upsetting or too hard to handle on their own," she says, adding that she'll discuss her temporary absence with the patient one-on-one during a session, in case it brings up any feelings of abandonment, rejection, not feeling safe, frustrations, or even old trauma.
Dr. Babbel says that if the patient needs it, she might work also on putting together what she calls a "transitional object" that the patient can use as a reminder of their time in therapy together.
"A reminder can be a written note, my online recordings such as YouTube to hear my voice, or sometimes I give them a stuffed animal from my office they can borrow," she says.
Of course, if someone is having a mental health emergency, the best course of action would be to contact a crisis hotline like the Crisis Call Center, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or even 911, but otherwise, it could be helpful to sit down with a therapist before their vacation, and talk through tools and resources to use while they're away.
I want my patients to know that they are taken care of even when I am on vacation.
Susanne Babbel, PhD
"I suggest creating a list of psychological tools, resources, and network of supportive friends prior to the therapist’s vacation," she says. "Practicing self-care, compassion, and nurturing oneself during the absence of a therapist is essential, [like] using relaxation techniques, mindful meditations, positive affirmations, [and] going on walks or exercising regularly."
Dr. Babbel also suggests looking up local group therapy options, and keeping a journal of progress to discuss during the next session.
But if that's not enough to quell your anxiety about being away from your therapist (especially if they're going on a long break), rest assured that your therapist can also refer you to someone else in the meantime if you need it.
"I usually contact a couple therapists that I know and ask if they could fill in during my vacation," Dr. Babbel says. If one of those therapists agrees, Dr. Babbel will usually fill them in on her patients' history, and then contact the patients to let them know who they can reach out to if they need support.
In any case, as scary as it might seem to have your therapist be out of commission for a while, just remember that they still care about you, and will make sure you'll be okay in their absence.
"I want my patients to know that they are taken care of even when I am on vacation," Dr. Babbel says.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.