You need a vacation. That might be advice you commonly give clients who come to see you due to high stress levels, burnout or anxiety. It's also advice you should take as a therapist and clinician. Self-care for counselors is as important as self-care for clients. Taking a summer break can give you a chance to recharge, lower your own stress levels and boost your productivity.

Perhaps you're wondering if therapists can take vacations or you need help preparing your clients for a week or two off. Here are some steps you can take to prepare for time off and how to help clients cope with potential feelings of abandonment while you're away.

Striking a Balance Between Self-Care and Client Care

As a behavioral health clinician, you probably stress the importance of self-care to your clients regularly. Self-care for counselors is equally important. It's so important that most codes of ethics for clinicians require you to keep an eye on your own well-being when providing care to clients.

Think of it this way — if you are in full-time practice, you might see around 25 clients each week. If each session lasts 50 minutes, you're spending nearly 25 hours a week listening to and providing support to people who are going through challenging situations. It can be difficult not to absorb the emotions and feelings of your clients. Setting boundaries, such as giving yourself a certain amount of time for a vacation each year, is critical for maintaining your well-being.

You don't want your clients to feel a sense of therapist vacation abandonment while you're on break. To strike a balance between caring for clients and caring for yourself, you can provide a list of resources to your clients for when you're away. If you work in a group practice, another therapist or counselor might be available to step in if your clients absolutely need help while you're away. Another option is to provide your clients a "for emergency use only" phone number to reach you if necessary.

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Choosing Your Summer Vacation

Some vacation types have different goals than others. For example, you might need to take a vacation to give yourself time to relax and unwind. Or, you might decide to take time off to work on continuing education or catch up on non-client-related work projects. Here are a few types of therapist vacations to consider taking:

  • Take a true vacation: A true vacation lets you disconnect from your typical life and enjoy some time away. Where you go and what you do on a true vacation is entirely up to you. You might head to the beach and spend a few days by the ocean reading a book. Another option is to go to a cabin in the woods or visit a favorite city to explore cultural activities and events.
  • Enjoy a staycation: You don't always need to travel to enjoy the benefits of a vacation. Taking a few days off and staying home to work on house projects, enjoy your backyard or catch up on your favorite TV show can be rewarding and restorative. If work has you feeling particularly tired, a staycation can be very relaxing as you won't have to deal with the hustle and bustle of the airport or worry about getting stuck in traffic.
  • Try a workation: As a behavioral health clinician, you know there is more to your job than seeing patients. If your caseload is high, you might benefit from taking a step back and spending a few days on a workation. During a workation, you don't see clients, but you do work on practice-related items. You might focus on improving your marketing or advertising, upgrading your note-writing software or EHR, or thinking about what you'll do with your practice next.
  • Take time for training: In addition to a workation, you might need to take a day or two off occasionally to earn continuing education credits or complete other types of training. While you'll want to give your clients notice that you'll be away, it's important to take time off beyond the days you'll be spending in training. Continuing education tends to be stimulating and informative, rather than relaxing. If possible, consider scheduling a day or two off for training followed by a day or two to relax and unwind.

7 Vacation Tips for Clinicians

Before you head out on your summer break, there are a few things to do to keep your practice running smoothly while you're away and to streamline the process for clients returning to therapy after a break:

  1. Notify clients in advance: Let your clients know as far in advance as possible that you'll be taking time away. You might consider writing a therapist vacation letter to clients, letting them know exactly how long you'll be away and providing them a list of resources or points of contact during your time away. If you have clients who have abandonment issues and you worry your vacation might trigger those issues, tread carefully. You might need to devote time to discussing their feelings and thoughts on your vacation during a session.
  2. Set up away messages and out-of-office replies: Even if you let your current clients know you'll be away, you might have potential clients or past clients contact you during the break, hoping to set up appointments. Before you leave, set an out-of-office reply on your work email letting people know how long you'll be gone and how you'll be handling emails during your vacation. You might also want to include a number for people to call if they are experiencing an emergency, such as 911.
  3. Establish an emergency point of contact: Your clients might need help while you're away. If you work in a group practice, you can ask one of your colleagues to step in and serve as the emergency point person while you're on vacation. If you work on your own, ask another clinician you know and trust if they'd be willing to serve as your emergency point person during your break. Get your client's permission to share any files or documents necessary with the emergency contact.
  4. Get ahead of work: If possible, give yourself a day or two to catch up on administrative tasks before leaving for vacation. Answer any emails in your inbox or return phone calls. Submit paperwork for billing so you don't have to handle it when you return and to speed up the payment process.
  5. Don't do too much at once: If it has been some time since you last took a vacation, you might want to go on an extended break. It's usually a good idea to start small, especially if it's been a while since you've had time away. Take a few days off at first, such as a long weekend. With smaller, more frequent breaks, you're likely to feel well-rested after each one and not overwhelmed or behind when you return to your practice.
  6. Give yourself a buffer: If you decide to take a week or longer vacation, it can be helpful to give yourself a buffer day between coming home and resuming work. The buffer day can help you get over jet lag or settle back into your daily life. With an extra day of vacation padding, you'll feel more relaxed and ready when you do go back to work.
  7. Disconnect when on vacation: Whether you take a true vacation, a staycation or a workation, it's important to disconnect. If you have to bring your work devices with you, leave them powered off or on airplane mode as much as possible. Choose a time to check your messages, such as first thing in the morning on the third day of your vacation, if there are any pressing issues. Otherwise, use your vacation to recharge so you can return to your practice better equipped to provide the best possible care to your clients.

Preparing for Common Client Reactions

How your clients react to the news you'll be on vacation may depend on their personalities and temperaments. You can expect a range of responses. Take a look at a few possible client responses and how you can respond:

  • Relieved: Although it often leads to good things, therapy can be challenging. If your client is dealing with a lot, they might feel and express a sense of relief that you'll be taking some time off. They might also express relief if they pay out of pocket for their care and are feeling the pinch in their budget. If a client expresses relief about a break, you might suggest cutting back on therapy, trying biweekly sessions instead of weekly sessions, for example.
  • Indifferent: Some clients might be ambivalent or indifferent to the news of your vacation. If a client is indifferent, they might not be getting as much as they could from your therapy sessions together. This may mean they could be better suited to working with a different clinician or possibly taking a break from therapy.
  • Annoyed: Prepare to have some annoyed clients if you decide to take a break. Their annoyance isn't a reflection of your skills as a clinician. Instead, they might be annoyed because they feel they are making good progress in their therapy and may be worried that disruption will throw them off course. In those cases, provide your clients plenty of resources and tips for coping in your absence, such as journaling or meditating.
  • Devastated: A client might feel particularly let down by the news you will be taking some time off. They might see you as their sounding board or as the one stable presence in their lives. Even a short break can hurt their progress. If you have devastated clients, you want to equip them as much as possible to handle your absence. Ask them to journal while you're away and seek other relationships they can lean on during your vacation.

How to Take More Vacations

Time away from work is important enough to be something you account for in your personal fees and budget. There are several things you can do to make vacations financially feasible for yourself and your practice:

  • Create a vacation fund: To cover the cost of vacations or paying yourself for your time off, you can set up a vacation fund to save up for your breaks. When deciding how much to put into the account, calculate the cost of any travel and your average daily salary. Set up a recurring, automatic deposit into the account monthly, so you don't have to remember to pay yourself.
  • Focus your budget: If money seems to be tight and you don't think you can afford to save for vacation or time off, take a closer look at your budget. You might have recurring expenses for things you don't need, such as journal subscriptions or memberships in professional organizations you don't need to be part of.
  • Vacation when others are on vacation: Some times of year are busy for vacations. Since you work with people, it can be convenient to schedule your breaks around the time they are most likely to be on vacation, too. For example, try to take your summer break during the same week most of your clients will be on vacation. During the winter holidays, plan to take the time between Christmas and New Year's off, as many people are likely to be doing the same.
  • Get flexible with your schedule: Depending on your caseload, it can pay to build some flexibility into your schedule. For example, you might decide to see patients three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday. You then have Monday and Friday free for administrative tasks and other responsibilities. If you decide to have a long weekend, you won't need to reschedule your clients.

Get More Resources to Support Your Practice From ICANotes

You can provide the best care and support to your clients when you focus on enhancing and preserving your well-being. ICANotes behavioral health EHR is software that helps you document treatment plans for your patients to better guide them toward their desired therapy outcomes. We're also here to support you in your behavioral health career. Browse our blog for useful information and resources to help you build your career and support your practice.

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