Why You're Handling Your Vacation All Wrong & 8 Ways To Do It Better

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You’re emotionally present for your clients every day, and that takes a lot of energy. It’s an incredible honor to step into your clients’ lives and witness their vulnerability. You’re responsible for practicing self-care so that you can be a great therapist.


When you’re burned out and exhausted, you’re...less good.


Part of your job is to take time off.


Vacation is not a disruption in your private practice. It’s a normal part of the rhythm of your work. Time off, just like sleep, is a necessary and regular part of your life. When you treat vacation as a disruption to your private practice, you don’t get its full benefits.


Most therapists are handling vacation all wrong.


Here’s how it’s supposed to work: you look forward to vacation, leave work behind when you go, take enough time off, feel well rested when you return, and then ease back into work. If you’re not handling vacation this way, read on.


Here are 8 ways to do vacation better


1. DON'T double up on sessions in the week before you leave or the week you return. 


When you try to make up the sessions that would have happened during your vacation, you’re setting yourself up to be too busy before you leave and too busy when you return. That’s stressful, and it doesn’t count as vacation.


If you’re working with a client who shouldn’t take time off of therapy, you need to establish a backup therapy relationship right now, before it’s time for your vacation. In most cases in private practice, it’s appropriate for the client to miss those sessions. If you’re uncomfortable taking time off without doubling up before and after, you might need some consultation so that you can sit with your clients’ feelings.


Maybe  the financial impact of vacation brings you discomfort. That brings us to the next guideline.


2. Build time off into your financial plan. 


When you calculate the amount you need to bring in every month, account for the weeks when you’ll take time off. Make sure your fee and your number of sessions per week set you up to be able to take vacation without financial distress.


3. DON'T wait until you can afford an amazing vacation. 


Staycations are great too. If you can’t afford to go away, take time off anyway.


4. If you go away during your time off, take one more day off at home before you go back to sessions. 


This is a great self-care tactic. Take a day to recover from jet lag, unpack, or just get caught up on paperwork and email before you step back into the therapy room.


5. Set up your time off well so that you can really relax. 


Give your clients ample notice that you’ll be away.


Ask a colleague to be available for your clients if they need to talk to a therapist before you return.


Create and record an outgoing voicemail script stating when you’ll return, what to do if they are a new client who wants to work with you and what to do if they are already working with you and need to speak to someone.

Set up your email to automatically respond with your backup therapist’s information and your return date.

The day before you go, give yourself at least an extra hour to tie up loose ends. In that hour, respond to emails from clients and potential clients, and quickly email anyone else waiting for a response from you that you’ll be away and won’t be able to respond until you return. Make a list of what you’ll need to do on your return day. You’re in a better position before you go to write that to-do list, and you’ll avoid feeling overwhelmed when you return.


6. Allow yourself to return slowly. 


Remember that it takes a few days to catch up completely. If you took my advice and didn’t overbook yourself for the week of your return, you’ll have enough time to catch up on email and voicemails within a few days.


7. Take enough time off. 


Do you ever take more than a week off? You’ve got to go through all of the trouble of getting prepared for time off. Take as much time as you really need so you can completely let go.


8. Schedule your next vacation before you take this one. 


Schedule some time off every few months. Don’t wait until you feel burned out before you plan your time off. Consider planning out your vacation time for the next year. Looking forward to pleasant events gives us as much happiness as the events themselves.


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