Being a therapist is not like being an accountant, a policeman, a dentist, a lawyer or even a nurse. When these people go on holiday they are replaceable without too much grief to their clients. Therapy is different. When you have a practice full of people who are deeply committed to therapy (and their therapist), who are in heavy-duty, emotionally charged, excruciatingly painful discussions about their mothers or fathers, sometimes deciding to take an impromptu vacation is not a good idea, especially if you have no contingency plans in place for your clients suffering the heavy throes of transference.
Any rupture in the therapeutic process can be disastrous. I used to go postal when my therapist would have a weekend break, let alone a long, overseas holiday. Gradually over the years these feelings lessened to the point where I could actually wish her a happy time – and mean it.
This is because I have pretty much always had electronic communication with her during her holidays. Not just me, but her other clients who need that brief contact for stress relief and personal safety. Being an effective therapist is not a nine to five job as some clients tend to disintegrate at inconvenient moments.
So what happens when your therapist suddenly decides to take an extended vacation and tells you, attached weekly client of many years dealing with painful childhood issues, that you cannot under any circumstances contact her via email, text, or phone even if it’s a life-threatening emergency? What long-term irrevocable damage is that going to cause, not just to the therapeutic relationship, but to the client’s mental health in general?
If you want to charge serious money to help and support people in their painful issues, then some sort of personal responsibility and duty of care is needed on a consistent, reliable basis. Dumping your client unceremoniously in favour of me-time is selfish, self-centred, dishonourable, abrogates all sense of caring and disrespects the precious healing process. Trust, tenuous at the best of times for some clients, is irretrievably broken; trust that has taken many years to built can be destroyed in seconds. There is a sense of loss of control, helplessness, powerlessness and a feeling that you are at the whim and mercy of a wrathful God/Goddess. When your dedicated therapist dumps you, it can be like a sudden death in the family.
By all means take holidays, even extended ones, but please put into place backup systems for clients who fall apart when the rules of therapy change. Would it really kill you to put aside a few minutes or even half an hour a day contacting those fragile, dependent clients who desperately need you in their lives? A brief three minute call is all it takes sometimes. Please don’t just go “walk-about” and leave clients festering in their own irresolvable issues. Would you leave your children home alone without contact details? It can permanently sever the ties, and undo all the good work done previously. The stable becomes unstable and the world can become a dangerous place once again.
It can leave clients feeling worse, with greater issues, than before they even contemplated having you as their therapist. And without regular, fee-paying clients, how could you afford to go on that splendiferous holiday in the first place?
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Claire (January 7, 2010)
From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (January 7, 2010)
From Psych Central's website:
Clarification on my Last Two Blogs in Therapy Unplugged | Therapy Unplugged (January 13, 2010)
Last reviewed: 7 Jan 2010