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.
A common question I receive when working with parents is how to offer support when witnessing their child having friendship dilemmas. Friendships are a significant developmental milestone for your child, and it can be tricky to know what to say or how to provide help without causing a rupture in your relationship with them. Here are three ways to help you connect with your child and support them through this challenging phase.
Friendships are a personal territory often associated with self-consciousness or insecurity, but when children gain the courage to come to you for support, the most helpful thing you can do is listen. Stop whatever you are doing and give them your undivided attention. Thoughtfully listening to your child is key in making them feel not only heard verbally, but also seen in a way that affirms themselves and their experience.
2. Refrain From Giving Advice (At First)
When your child comes to you and is asking about how to handle a friendship situation, the immediate response may be to fix, solve, or rescue. Resist the temptation to do so. Often times when children go to you for help, what they really want is to be heard. Giving advice can emphasize problem solving rather than focusing on what your child is experiencing. However, sometimes your child may only desire advice. In that case, use bullet point # 3 to try to gauge if there may be any reasons for them not wanting to explore the situation deeply. Some reasons could be avoiding feelings around the friendship or desiring you to intervene and fix the situation. If none of those apply to your child and their situation, then advice giving could be helpful.
3. Reflecting and Asking Curiosity Questions
Two things that can help your child navigate friendships are reflecting and asking curiosity questions. Reflecting not only shows that you are listening to what is being said, but it also allows your child to hear how you may be experiencing their thoughts and feelings. Asking your child open ended questions can foster connection and prompts them to explore their situation more deeply. Below are some examples of how you could use reflection and curiosity questions.
Examples of Reflecting:
You seem to be struggling (e.g. angry, frustrated, annoyed) with this situation.
I hear that this friendship is making you question some things.
You sound really concerned (e.g. hurt by, worried, upset with, excited) about your friend.
I appreciate you coming to me and telling me about this.
Examples of Curiosity Questions:
What is this making you feel?
How can I help?
Would you like for me to give advice or listen?
These three methods can help you approach this important phase in your child’s life with kindness and empathy, both of which are critical to building a greater connection with them. If you have any questions for me or would like more information on helping your child through challenging experiences, please reach out to set up a session.
Congratulations – you made it through another year! Another trip around the sun full of triumph, tragedy, and all of the beautiful nuances in between. Inevitably, with the closeout of a year comes the onset of a new one, and alongside that new year comes a bit of baggage in the form of New Year’s Resolutions. I am going to let you all in on a little secret…. I am not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I know, it’s a strong statement! Keep reading, let me explain.
New Year, New Me?
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate our opportunity to focus on self-improvement, wellness, and making changes. I love the idea of utilizing the symbolic nature of a new year to create a new chapter, bookend the past year, and paint a new vision for the future. What irks me about New Year’s Resolutions is the implication that we didn’t do something “good enough” over the past year. It’s the idea that in order to have lived what is considered a “good” day, week, or year, we have to continually strive to meet some arbitrary expectation set for ourselves to be better – as if being ourselves isn’t enough. To resolve ourselves to some big change just because the date on the calendar changes feels harsh and full of undue pressure on ourselves. It is also unforgiving of the complexities and nuances that we have faced within the last 365 days, and the ones we will face in the next 365 days. We go through so much just existing and being human in the state of the world, and you’ve made it so far. That’s a big accomplishment! We are all doing the best we can to survive and thrive within our given circumstances. You are amazing, worthy, and beautiful just the way you are, and a new date on the calendar does not mean you need to “resolve” anything about yourself!
With that being said, I can certainly appreciate the tendency to look towards the new year and feel the need to create meaning, excitement, goals, and joy around it. I’ve come up with a few of my favorite alternatives to the traditional New Year’s Resolutions.
New Year’s Intentions
Intentions are a little less intense than a resolution! I love setting intentions because it allows for a more fluid way to look forward and create momentum for your year without setting hard goals. If you are unsure of the specific ways you want to create change in your year, that is okay! Intentions allow for some flexibility in the way we create our goals (or not!) and allow for us to mold our behaviors to our intention, rather than force our intention to fit our behaviors. Consider what you would like to potentially incorporate into your new year that is different from prior years and use this as a way to guide your goal setting going forward.
New Year’s Theme Word
Pick a theme, not a resolution! Find one or two words that describe what you are hoping to bring in your new year. Again, themes are about fluidity and flexibility. Keep track of your theme by dedicating a journal to your theme word. Consider journaling at the end of each week or month about how you embodied your theme word throughout that time period, so you maintain accountability towards your theme word, yet maintain grace for yourself as you progress in the new year.
New Year’s Reflections
Rather than looking forward on this New Year’s Eve, take a minute to reflect back on the last year. Ask yourself some open-ended questions about the lessons you learned, accomplishments you made, areas of growth and challenges you faced. Journal, draw, or share them with a trusted friend (or therapist!). In your reflections, hold space for the wide breadth and depth of the experiences within your year. This practice may not get you closer to a defined goal, but you’ll develop a deeper understanding of what you want to leave behind in the past year and what you would like to bring with you into the new one.
New Year’s Gratitude
To quote the great Brene Brown – “Practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we are enough.” I believe gratitude is a crucial accompaniment to any New Year’s ritual practice. In order for us to continue to look forward without creating shame or harsh judgments towards ourselves, we need to honor ourselves first. Consider starting a bullet journal of gratitude with all of the amazing things this year contained! You survived another year of a pandemic. Maybe you landed a new job, started a new hobby, cultivated deeper relationships, or took the leap of starting therapy. Maybe you just were able to make it through every day, and that is certainly worth celebrating too! You are wonderful just as you are. You are a breathing, walking miracle capable of creating sunshine in a dark place. That is deserving of recognition and gratitude. Cultivating a gratitude practice will help maintain strong levels of encouragement and appreciation throughout your new year.
As we enter this new year full of excitement, suspense, and wonder I want to encourage you to hold true to your own authentic place in this journey. Whatever your feelings are towards New Year’s Resolutions are valid! If you are a goal setting go-getter ready to take on 2022, great! If you’re a little more hesitant and unsure of what you want this new year to look like, that’s okay too. Holding true to your own feelings and authenticity surrounding this transition is the best resolution you can make to yourself. If you want some support around your journey with yourself, consider reaching out to a therapist. We are here and ready to help you create the life you are looking for!