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It's Time For Your Therapist To Go On Vacation!

The value of living a full life

I guess it’s obvious that taking a vacation is vital for therapists. The work of being a therapist is emotionally demanding. You listen, day in and day out, to the troubles of your patients. If you are any good at your job, you are affected by your patients. You care. You carry their burdens and feel their pain. You worry about them and try hard to help them. While good therapists also develop the ability to manage their concerns about their patients on a daily basis, it is essential to have time away to have a break and recharge your batteries. You also get a chance to discover that your patients can survive without you. Vacations help keep the therapeutic relationship in perspective.

Vacations are important for all kinds of psychotherapists, but they are especially important to psychoanalysts given the unique nature of the work. In psychoanalysis, the work goes deep into the unconscious layers of the mind and can get pretty intense. As an analyst, you make yourself available to be used by your patients as a screen on to which they can project all of their love, hate, and desire. In their minds, you become the seductive mother, the cruel father, the competitive sibling. You must tolerate being made into someone you are not. Rather than defending yourself, you must try to think about what you are being made into and try to convey your understanding so that your patients might come to understand it, too. Psychoanalysis is work under pressure. And psychoanalysts need regular breaks in order to mend and tend themselves, to come back fresh so they can contend with more.

It is also obvious that vacations are hard on patients. In a good therapy experience, patients come to depend on their therapists. So it is easy to feel nervous about being left to cope with life on your own. It helps if the vacation is not too long and the therapist has an able colleague available to help in his or her absence.

It may be less obvious that therapist vacations are also vital for patients. They provide opportunities for patients to spread their wings and experience greater independence. They give patients a chance to see what they have taken in from the therapy, how they have grown, and what further growth might be needed or desired. After all, you can’t really know how much you can do on your own if mom, dad, or your therapist is always there!

Copyright 2012 Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.

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