Summer vacations often force psychotherapists and their patients to take a hiatus that can span weeks and sometimes a month or more. While some patients might view them as causes for concern, taking a break from psychotherapy can also be extremely beneficial.
The Resumption Matters More than the Interruption
When I was in graduate school, I was taught to discuss my summer vacations weeks in advance, so my patients and I would have plenty of time to discuss their feelings of ‘abandonment,’ ‘resentment,’ or jealousy,’ (a supervisor explained that jealousy might arise if a patient had fantasies of me jetting off to a private yacht in an exotic locale—albeit, as a graduate student working two jobs, I found that highly unlikely). Twenty years of private practice has taught me that simply telling my patients where I will be going on vacation causes little resentment, curiosity, or jealousy (which, now that I think of it, might be a sign that I need to be going on better vacations).
But while breaks can cause anxiety in some patients, the resumption of psychotherapy after a hiatus can also provide wonderful opportunities for individual growth, gains in self-esteem and enhancement of emotional well-being—if handled correctly.
How to Use Summer Breaks to Turbo Charge Your Psychotherapy
The following questions will help you think through your experiences while on a break from psychotherapy. Consider raising those that are relevant for discussion with your therapist.
1. Did you encounter situations you would ordinarily have discussed in therapy? How did you manage them? Were you able to do so effectively? Did your ability to manage these situations surprise you? If so, you might be underestimating your individual coping skills and you might want to use your psychotherapy to discuss and underscore your areas of strength, as well as your vulnerabilities.
2. Did you find yourself slipping into old and bad habits? If not, it means your work in therapy is paying off as you’ve probably internalized skills and tools you’ve been working on with your therapist. You might want to discuss how much you’ve already gained from the process, to allow such gains to impact your self-esteem.
3. Give some thought to what you’ve already accomplished in psychotherapy. Are you pleased with your progress and the direction of the therapy? If you feel progress has not been sufficient, you might want to discuss the option of taking new directions or approaches with your therapist, as they might need your feedback to do suggest such changes (most therapists are experienced enough to utilize more than one approach).
4. Give some thought to whether the break illuminated any new priorities and issues you would like to discuss when resuming psychotherapy. Discuss with your therapist how best to integrate these new issues with the current work you are doing.
Psychotherapy is a collaborative process. By using summer vacations or other breaks as opportunities to reevaluate and sharpen your focus and priorities, you can resume psychotherapy with renewed motivation and get the most out of the efforts you put forth when you and your therapist start up again.
Copyright 2012 Guy Winch
Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch