When Psychotherapy Stops at Christmas - Is it a Needed Break or an Unwanted Separation?
For many people and for various reasons, Christmas can be a difficult time of year. For those who have been seeing a therapist, taking a break from therapy over Christmas can feel like a loss, albeit a temporary one, of a much needed relationship and sense of connection.
How do you react when your therapist announces that for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year she or he won’t be available for your regular appointments?
Noticing and becoming aware of your reactions to this break in your therapy may be helpful for your therapy once you return to it after Christmas. You may recognize familiar reactions, you may see a pattern or theme in the reactions you have, or indeed they may be totally unexpected and come as something of a shock to you.
To help with this awareness, I highlight some common reactions to this interruption to your therapy as well suggestions of some possible meanings to these reactions and ways to reflect on them:
For some people, therapy can feel like hard work. Painful feelings can emerge and talking about difficult situations can feel hard. So the prospect of a break from weekly, or regular, therapy sessions can feel like a relief. If it does feel this way, it might be useful to think more deeply about how therapy is going for you. Is the pace of it helping or would you like that to change? What about your relationship with your therapist? Is that OK? Is there anything you feel you need to talk to them about?
Perhaps it doesn’t really matter to you one way or the other if you have a break from therapy over the Christmas and New Year period. Having this reaction may be an indication that therapy isn’t making a difference to you. In such a case it may be useful to reflect on why you sought therapy in the first place? How do you feel about your therapist? Have your feelings about the therapy or your therapist prevented you from talking about something important?
You feel angry about the disruption to the working through of issues in therapy. In this case, it might be useful to reflect on how you generally cope with disappointments, and perhaps what it is that you feel you will be missing during the festive break.
Perhaps being unable to meet with your therapist during the break feels traumatic. Perhaps the relationship and regular meetings with your therapist have become an important part of your week. You rely on your therapist for support. It is perhaps the most significant relationship you have, and even if not, it helps you cope with difficult feelings or situations. A familiar sense of abandonment may surface. You might feel rejected or not important to your therapist. You may fear that your therapist is permanently ending your therapy, that she or he won’t want you to come back.
Having this break can perhaps be an opportunity to work on some of the things you have been exploring in therapy and it can also help you look beyond the relationship with your therapist (as it will be necessary one day to do) and to look at other tools, resources and relationships which can feel supportive for you. In essence, the questions here are about how you can soothe yourself during this time and how can you take something from this break which you can be useful for your therapy when you return in the new year.
Essentially, whether welcome or unwelcome, a break from therapy at this time of year can offer space to reflect on how the therapy is going and what might be useful and important to address in the next phase.
In addition, while the Christmas break may feel like being left alone, it also may provide opportunities to to work through issues such as disappointment, frustration, separation and abandonment. Yet comfort can be taken from the fact that the break is only temporary. Therapy can resume again in the new year and may feel even more helpful than it was previously with the experience of this temporary break to draw on.