It can be anxiety provoking or upsetting to have your therapist go on vacation or on extended leave (i.e., maternity leave) during a time when you may feel you most need to be in therapy. Even if the break occurs during a time when you aren’t under a lot of stress or “needing” to be in therapy, it can be jarring to find out the person you have been counting on and seeing regularly is not going to be available.
Many of us have seen the movie "What About Bob?" which is a hyperbolic and comedic portrayal of a desperate patient who refuses to accept that his therapist is on vacation and ends up following him. Just because you feel sad or angry or anxious about your therapist being on vacation does not mean you are that stereotype. This is a completely normal reaction. It is important to discuss the upcoming leave or vacation with your therapist and express your feelings.
Your therapist should create space in your sessions to discuss any feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety that you have about the upcoming change. If your therapist doesn’t bring it up and you notice yourself having feelings about it, make sure that you bring it up. It is normal to have a full range of feelings about your therapist being unavailable during a period of time but often times clients feel they cannot or do not have the right to express those feelings because they understand intellectually that their therapist deserves/may need the time off. You also might feel that your reaction is silly or excessive. It is completely normal. Your therapist should understand and anticipate that you may have conflicting feelings about wanting your therapist to have the time off needed while being upset that your therapist will not be there for you.
Make a concrete plan with your therapist. Think about what will be happening during the extended leave or vacation such as a holiday or other potential stressor and write down ideas for how to cope with that time. Recall all the skills you have learned in therapy and plan how you will use them to get through this time. Make a list of supports in your life who you can call for help, if you want to talk to anyone. It can also be helpful to journal during this time either on a daily basis or to keep the weekly therapy hour you had to journal about your thoughts and feelings. Have a concrete plan in place for how to use skills you have learned and protect the gains you have made in therapy during this time.
Find out if your therapist will have someone covering. If your therapist is going on extended leave and you will be seeing someone in their absence, it can be helpful to meet with that person prior to your therapist’s last session with you before the leave in order to make sure it is a good fit. If you will not be seeing the covering therapist for therapy, review with your therapist the specific circumstances under which it would be appropriate to call the covering provider. It is helpful to plan in advance for this because calling someone you don’t know when you are in distress is hard enough.
If you need to find your own therapist to see during a long break like a maternity leave, for example, both ZenCare and Psychology Today are great resources. Make sure that the therapist you find takes your insurance, if that is a necessity. You can also call your insurance provider to find out what local therapists are "in-network" or find out which telehealth company they work with if online therapy is something you would like to try or need to try due to travel or scheduling constraints.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that a break that your therapist takes can provide you with a break as well, and a natural time to consolidate the gains you have made in therapy. It is absolutely essential to recognize how the hard work YOU have put into therapy has helped and to feel a sense of accomplishment, independence, and self-assurance. If you and your therapist agree that a break could help, make a plan with your therapist and discuss reasons/signs you may need to go back to seeing a therapist during that time. I cannot stress enough the importance of working with your therapist and planning in advance to figure out what this break will look like.