Why Is My Therapist Taking Time Off Again?!
I’d like to start this article with the point that whenever I take a stretch of time off, clients are extremely supportive and this has been a consistent experience in my 20+ years of social work practice. And for this I am very grateful.
So, in other words, this article did not emerge from complaints but rather, the idea that clients might be curious about why their therapist might be taking time off…again. I certainly have wondered this about some of my previous therapists, feeling a little perplexed at times, when time away from the office seemed more frequent then I was expecting.
If this topic interests you, please read on.
The Psychology of Being A Therapist
Most people who become counsellors—present company included—do so because of a desire to help others. Some of us have been told, before we became counsellors, that we have a natural ability to listen, and others of us have survived difficult family situations and became very adept at navigating and helping others navigate these situations. I like to call this “pre-training,” and it’s not necessarily a good thing, especially if we’re developmentally not yet ready to handle others’ problems. But that’s another topic for another day.
While some people might think that therapists are detached superhumans, phased by nothing, this does not represent my lived experience at all. I liken the therapist experience more to the experience of being a sponge, soaking up what clients are expressing—taking everything in—but like all sponges, there gets to be a point where the capacity for absorption is maxed out.
Because I’ve noticed that I have a little less capacity as I age, and through seeing my clinical supervisor every month for the past number of years, I have learned that it’s better to enact therapy sponge maintenance at regular intervals, because a soggy sponge providing therapy is never a good thing, especially if doesn’t know it’s soggy!
Reasons For Time Off
But before I give the impression that time off is just to rejuvenate and recharge, let’s look at common reasons why your counsellor may be taking some time off:
Time off represents an opportunity to temporarily let go of the responsibilities that come with counselling and a time to relax and often do something entirely different. For some counsellors, this may be taking a holiday, as pandemic restrictions allow, or doing things around the house that are fun but difficult to make time for during a work week.
Most counsellors will tell you that the demand for counselling during the pandemic has been unprecedented. Keeping pace involves staying on top of processes and procedures, while also developing new ones. Suffice it to say, rest is in order. Of course, pandemic aside, there are also changes in a practice that have to happen that require time to implement, as well as regular maintenance.
Similar to the second point, some counsellors take time off in order to handle procedures difficult to fit into their work week like accounting/taxes, website maintenance, office issues, software/hardware upgrades and more.
Time to go to conferences (usually online these days) or take courses. If your counsellor is part of a professional college or association they are typically required to take professional development in order to maintain their licensure. For example, as a registered clinical social worker, I am required to do a minimum of 40 hours of continuing education a year.
Speaking or Professional Engagements
Some counsellors may take an active role with their professional college or association, during committee work, acting as a speaker or organizing events. If you have a well-known or even famous therapist, some travel around the world doing speaking engagements and workshops and have limited time to see clients.
Sometimes counsellors have to take off time in order to deal with unexpected health issues, medical appointments, family or childcare issues and their own personal crises.
Why Should I Care?
It’s important to recognize that when therapists take time off it can be inconvenient for clients. It can feel very disruptive if you have a predictable appointment schedule that gets paused or you are in the middle of working through something with your counsellor. A therapist’s temporary absence can also invoke worries that we might somehow not be able to cope without them.
But are there benefits for counselling clients?
I am, of course, biased, but some things to consider:
- A rested therapist is a more present therapist. While being a counselling client on and off since my 20s has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, those few and far between difficult moments have usually been related to times where I felt that my therapist was drifting away temporarily. Of course, therapists are human but being largely present with what a client is saying is fundamental.
- Hopefully, therapists are practicing what they preach. Encouraging clients to take an active role in their own wellbeing and self-care, if they don’t do it themselves is disingenuous.
- The provision of counselling is an ethical issue. Keeping a chock-a-block schedule with no breaks or time off increases the likelihood of clinical errors or inadvertently harming clients.
- Keeping current in the counselling field brings new ideas, approaches and knowledge to the therapy experience.
- A well-run counselling practice is rarely noticed but when systems go awry, everyone notices. Therapists must literally take care of business to avoid negatively impacting clients with their procedures or lack thereof.
- If you are concerned about your counsellor’s schedule, please voice your concerns. This allows an opportunity to come up with a customized plan, tailored to your therapy process.
- If you are a person who thrives with more certainty, ask your counsellor to let you know as soon as possible about when they will be taking their holidays or time off throughout the year, so that you can plan mentally.
- Develop a plan with your counsellor before they go away of things that you can do, to further your therapy experience, while they are gone.
- If you are in crisis or anticipate having a hard time when your counsellor is away, ask your counsellor for a list of crisis numbers or even a therapist that you could see temporarily while they are away.
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