Many occasions can lead to a break in therapy – anything from a planned vacation or change in schedule to a sudden health emergency or change in circumstance. These breaks can be planned or unplanned, initiated by either the client or by the therapist, and they can be welcome or unwelcome. No matter the circumstances, these breaks can also be opportunities for continued growth and increased self-awareness. If you find yourself facing a current or upcoming break in therapy, here are four tips to make the most of it:
Dedicate the time
Breaks can be opportunities to slow down and focus on yourself and your relationships. They are opportunities to put into practice some of the discoveries made in therapy, and to try turning to other coping strategies and social support outside the therapist’s office. Dedicate the hour or hours you may have otherwise scheduled for therapy to yourself in other ways: take yourself on a walk or schedule coffee with an old friend.
Breaks can also be opportunities to step back, observe, and assess. It can be helpful to keep a journal during this time, and to bring your observations with you when you return to therapy. Some potential questions to consider journaling about: Did anything come up for you in your time away that you would have otherwise brought to therapy? If so, how did you manage it? What has changed since the start of therapy (or since your last break)? How have you grown? What’s needed moving forward?
Talk about it
Breaks can bring up feelings around loss and separation, both in the therapeutic relationship and in your relationships outside of therapy. In the session before the break, discuss with your therapist any feelings that come up around the upcoming break, and also put together a plan for how best to cope in the time away. Upon your return, you can reflect together on the experience and any insight gained.
Reach out for additional support as needed. For longer and unexpected breaks, consider scheduling short-term support with another therapist or reaching out to a warm line. You don’t need to wait for a crisis to reach out for help. If you do find yourself stuck or struggling, don’t hesitate to call a crisis help line like 988.
Summer break is only a few weeks away! That means summer camps, traveling, and taking a much-needed break from the business of school is on the horizon for many students. In the therapy world there is a tendency for clients, and clients’ parents, to pause or stop therapy all together during this season for many valid reasons. Sometimes clients have hectic travel plans in which weekly or biweekly therapy won’t fit into their schedules; parents want their children to take a break from the usual hustle and bustle of after school activities which includes therapy; or the therapist and the client have collaboratively decided to stop therapy because session goals were accomplished. Whatever the reason, I find that it is beneficial to take a moment to discuss the importance of closing sessions when pausing or stopping therapy.
From a therapists’ perspective, I believe it is critical to have ongoing conversations with clients and their parents about goals in therapy because as the goals refined or altered so has the timeline of therapy. It also provides a loose structure for how long treatment can last and when clients and their parents can expect to pause or stop therapy. When both parties are aware and on board about when the last session takes place, it allows the client to process the end of therapy in a healthy way and the therapist is able to focus on how to structure the closing sessions (sessions leading up to the last day of therapy).
Sometimes, however, therapy can abruptly end, which unfortunately means that clients are not afforded the opportunity to have at least one closing session with their therapist. When I have further investigated reasons for this, one that shows up the most is that parents do not realize how important closing sessions are for their child’s therapeutic journey.
3 Important Reasons for Closing Sessions:
Closing sessions acknowledge the hard work that your child has accomplished in therapy. They are provided the safe space and dedicated time to reflect on their journey and be proud of themselves for doing the hard work to get them to where they are currently.
Therapy in and of itself is a highly emotional process and the time and effort it takes to create a therapeutic relationship with your child is a complex and rewarding feat. So saying goodbye is a way for your child and their therapist to jointly process the amount of trust, rapport, and honesty that has been gradually built up along the way.
As a therapist, it is important to model healthy goodbyes for our clients. When we have at least one closing session with our clients, we are able to show them that while a positive experience is ending for now, they are empowered to continue growing and evolving on their own. A common misconception about therapists is that we want to keep our clients in therapy forever. However that is not the case at all! Instead, what we truly desire is to equip our clients with the tools they need so that when the right time comes they can use the healthy coping mechanisms they learned in therapy out in the real world.
So if there is anything to take away from this blog, it is to talk to your child’s therapist about goals in session to not only get a sense of what your child is working on, but also to have a rough framework of how long therapy will last. These continued conversations can lead to a smoother transition for pausing or terminating therapy and your child can say goodbye to their therapist equipped with the confidence and self-assurance that they can continue growing on their own.
The college application process is an exciting time for any family. Your child has decided to further their education, consider different career paths, and begin the first stage of their adult life. You are proud of them and simultaneously anxious about the choices they will make. This is one of the most uniquely stressful times in a teenager’s life, and it can be easy for any parent to feed off of their child’s stress and worry about whether they are making the best decisions for their future. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you help your child navigate this transitory time.
Encourage them to seek joy
I recently had a parent session with the father of one of my clients who is a junior in high school. He shared with me that his son’s school counselor looked at his choice sheet for his senior year classes and asked him, “Where is the joy in your schedule?” This is such a beautiful reminder that teenagers need balance. Even though AP and IB classes look great on college applications, you have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to your child that it is necessary to prioritize their mental health and focus on things that make them happy. Start a conversation with them about their schedule. Be curious about the subjects they are interested in, and take note of the electives, sports, fine arts, etc. that make them come alive. Ultimately, colleges pursue students who jump off the page. GPAs and test scores can make an application stand out, but admissions officers are not looking for robots. They want to see students who have passions and varied interests. Reinforce that your child is human, and this is the time in their life to try new things and decipher what makes them feel joyful.
Help them prioritize their overall wellness
There are so many things that demand high schoolers’ time and energy. Your child is likely coming home feeling exhausted from balancing assignments, tests, extra-curricular activities, friendships, studying for the ACT or SAT, and completing college applications. This often involves overextending themselves and putting their wellness beneath the things on their to-do list. It can be hard to balance helping your teen stay on top of their responsibilities with inspiring them to care for themselves. Here are some behaviors to look out for that indicate your teen needs help to put themselves first:
Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities
Remind your child that they will not be able to perform the way they would like to in their classes or on their standardized tests if they are not regulated, well-rested, well-fed, and well-connected. Most importantly, children learn by example. If they see you prioritizing your wellness, they will follow suit.
There are many moving parts to college applications like login information, resumes, deadlines that vary according to school, recommendation letters, essays, transcripts, and more. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that houses executive functioning, organizational skills, impulse control, and decision making, and it does not fully develop until around age 25. With this in mind, it can be difficult for teenagers to keep track of all the things they need to acquire and submit for their college applications. They will have plenty of questions for you, and they will need your assistance to stay on track. Listen to their concerns, reflect and validate how they feel, and collaborate with them to find solutions to their problems.
Seek professional help
Teens have many things to consider when they apply to college. This process brings up various existential questions like “Who am I?” “What is my passion?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” It is beneficial for teens to have a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental space to address these questions. Meeting with a therapist can empower your child to care for themselves and face this uncertain time confidently. If your child needs support with the logistical aspects of the college application process, here are some referrals for wonderful college counselors in Austin:
Your teen is looking to you for encouragement, support, and guidance through this incredibly turbulent time. Above all else, remember to focus on connecting with them and maintaining a curious disposition as they communicate their interests to you. Trust that they have the skills within them to see this process through and make decisions that align with their values and desires. Additionally, trust that you are capable of pacing them through this time while helping them embrace their autonomy.