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In Praise of Unplugging

Do something for your practice by doing nothing for a while

We are halfway through summer. Have you taken time off yet?

If not, it's probably time.

Zoe has been in practice for a couple of years and is really feeling the need for a break, but says she is worried about two things- not having the income while she is out of the office, and possibly losing clients.    

She's not unusual. Lots of self-employed people I know don't take as much time off as they might if they were working for someone else. It's too bad really. One of the exciting parts of going into private practice is being able to set your own schedule, but some of us struggle with allowing ourselves to have the rest and rejuvenation we need. If this resonates with you, let's take a look at the two big worries and address them.

Afraid you will lose clients if you take a vacation? If you are away from your practice for an extended period of time (I'm talking a month or more), it is possible some people would choose to seek therapy elsewhere or stop altogether. However, in my experience, unless the client is very new and the vacation is an extended one, this usually isn't what causes a client to end treatment prematurely.

By giving ample notice of time off and listening attentively for how they may be experiencing the interruption, both before you leave and after you come back, your time away becomes grist for the mill. Attachment style, past relational trauma, and significant events that occur while you are out can all influence how a particular client experiences the break in therapy. Remember, its not about preventing ruptures, it's about making repairs. Going away and coming back is an opportunity to work on healing attachment wounds. It's also great modeling for clients who may struggle with self-neglect and overwork. Some clients won't be miffed at all. Others will be able to talk about it. Still others will show you through their actions how the break impacted them, and the work is about putting those feelings into words.

It will not serve your clients, the therapy, or you to avoid taking needed time away out of fear of what your clients may feel about it. Good consultation can help you with cases where the break evokes intense negative responses.

It's also worth thinking about whether your fears of losing clients are really fears about slowing down yourself. Like the cardiologists who eat fried food, therapists can at times be good at talking about self-care and not always great at practicing it. It can be difficult to slow down and take time off if you feel like you don't deserve a break, if you are not in touch with your own needs due to vicarious trauma, or if you are over-identified with the role of the helper and need work that to sustain you. 

A sustainable private practice requires rest and relaxation.

Worried about losing income while you are out of the office?

You can plan for this. You can set up your practice so that you accrue paid time off, much like you would at another job.

When you are setting fees and planning for the year, consider the number of weeks you want to work. Open up a second bank account for business savings and transfer money into it at the end of each week or each month. You should already be doing this for your estimated taxes, but if you put more in than you need for taxes each week or each month, there will be plenty of money to pay yourself and cover your bills while you are out. If you want to keep it in one account, that could work too, but it will be easier to track if it's separate. Plus, you might like watching that money accrue, knowing that it means time off without worry.

How are you going to have enough money to transfer into a business savings account? By setting your fees appropriately and enforcing your cancellation policy.

When you are figuring out what your fees need to be, you need to factor in vacation weeks. There's a formula for figuring out what your average hourly fee needs to be in my earlier blog post on setting fees.

Once you're on vacation, don't forget to stop working.

It may be tempting, but if you really want your nervous system to reset, don't check your work email or voice mail when you are out. Set an autoresponder on your email. Have a colleague cover your practice. Give your clients the information about who is covering the practice. Change your outgoing message. But most of all, give yourself permission to really step away from work.

If you want a practice that is truly sustainable and nourishing for both you and your clients, take time off and enjoy it.  Happy summer!

If you want support around setting boundaries and systems in your practice so that you are truly cared for while you do good work in the world, contact me for a free consultation call.