Pregnancy is 9-months of excitement, anticipation, and absolute hustle to get ready before the baby arrives. In private practice, there are a lot of details to work out. Because you work for yourself, parental leave looks different than if you had an employer. This is not to say, however, that you’re at a loss! With the right intentionality, pre-planning, and thoughtfulness, you can return to work after parental leave feeling good about the pause.
Are you pregnant or trying to get pregnant and wondering what will happen to your therapy practice? We’ve collected 9 items to consider before parental leave — tips that will help not only you but your clients and your business.
1. Map out your timeline
When you discover that you’re expecting, one of the first details that you want to know is the due date. How much time before your baby is ready to meet you? This timeline is especially important when you’re thinking about client care and how to wrap up your private practice before you take parental leave.
When you know the approximate start date of your parental leave (as much as you can plan, anyway), determine when you’ll tell your clients. Ask yourself the following questions, knowing that there is no correct answer:
- Do I want to tell them before I start showing?
- Do I want to tell them only after the risk of miscarriage has lessened?
- Will knowing about my upcoming parental leave benefit or hinder their progress? Would giving them more lead time be helpful?
Your answer to the above questions entirely depends on your therapy style, personal preferences, and client needs. A therapist who works with long-term clients will answer differently than a therapist who offers short-term modalities. Again, there’s no right or wrong way to set your timeline and there are a wide range of ways that therapists handle the timing of the news.
The next part is determining how long you would like to take parental leave. Generally, American parents take around three months of leave before returning to work — however, there’s nothing wrong with taking longer (or shorter!) if that’s what works for you. You’ll share this information with your clients alongside the news of your pregnancy so they can anticipate the plan.
Once you’ve put dates to those two important elements, consider when you’ll stop taking on new clients. This will help any new clients adjust to therapy with you before your leave.
2. Figure out your communication plan
Once it’s time to tell your clients about your pregnancy, you’ll need to figure out your communication plan. How will you tell your clients that you’re pregnant? What’s the best way to share the news?
Whether you bring it up at the beginning of a session or at the end, practice how you’re going to tell them beforehand. Consider different ways to talk about your pregnancy and your upcoming parental leave. Be prepared for some very different reactions (more on that in number 5!) and have responses ready for each type of reaction.
Many therapists find it helpful to tell their clients that they’re expecting in a neutral tone and in straightforward language. Be sure to share what your plans are for when you’re absent — clients will most likely wonder what will happen to them after you have your baby, even if they don’t ask right away.
You might find yourself needing to set boundaries with your clients after you share the news. Clients might ask questions either about your pregnancy or your personal life, so coming up with ways to keep the conversation appropriate for the setting will be important. The clients who are parents might also offer you unsolicited advice on parenting, so practice declining this advice, and refocusing the session on how they’re feeling about the news.
3. Plan out your finances
One of the major concerns that pregnant private practice therapists have is how they’ll support themselves if they take parental leave. This is why it’s critical to plan out your finances ahead of time so you aren’t left worrying unnecessarily.
It’s true, parental leave in private practice will change your budget. However, this doesn’t have to be debilitating to you or your business. Consider the following questions as you sit down to write out your financial plan:
- How much money do I currently have saved up?
- How much money do I need to live off of during my parental leave?
- Do I have a support system that could help during this period? (i.e. a partner, your family)
- Can I make money in other ways during parental leave?
- Are there business costs that I can cut out while I’m out-of-office? (i.e. utilities, bookkeepers, cleaning services)
If you are stressed about your income, you can consider seeing clients on a much reduced schedule — think only seeing a few clients per week or every other week. If you’re seeking development during your parental leave, some therapists use a portion of their leave to take continuing education courses or learn a new modality. However, if neither of these options sound good to you, that’s okay too! Your time, attention, and energy may be tied up with your little someone special and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Lastly, you may also want to consider that it will take longer than your parental leave for your finances to bounce back. Some clients may terminate with you before you begin your leave or continue on with the covering therapist, which means your caseload (and budget) may have gaps to fill when you’re ready to return. By including this in your financial plan, you won’t be caught off guard and can instead focus on transitioning back into your practice.
4. Activate a referral network
While some clients may take your parental leave as a reason to end or pause their therapy journeys completely, other clients may want to continue their work with another therapist in your absence. If that’s the case, then it’s time to activate your referral network. Do you have colleagues or peers that might cover for you during your parental leave? Who can you refer your clients to either for the duration of your parental leave or permanently?
It can be relatively simple to transfer your clients, especially when you have a timeline and communication plan settled. You may ask your client to sign a Release of Information form so you can share appropriate information with your covering therapist. If you think that a warm hand-off would benefit your client, you can also set up a time for the three of you to meet — or allow your client to overlap for a brief period of time, seeing both of you and processing through the transition.
5. Understand your clients’ reactions
Perhaps one of the most important items to consider before your parental leave is to understand that your clients will have diverse emotional reactions. Your empathy will go a long way in this process!
There are many ways that your clients might react when you tell them that you’re pregnant. Here are a few to think through:
- Excited. Many people view the birth of a child as an exciting, wonderful event. Your clients may tell you that they’re so happy for you and your family.
- Worried. Some clients may immediately become concerned about their own therapy journey. Especially when the therapeutic relationship is strong, they might be worried that they’ll never find another therapist like you or that they’ll be forgotten.
- Jealous. It’s not uncommon for couples to have infertility issues and the emotional fallout from this experience may lead to clients feeling jealous of your fertility. Whether your client shares this with you or not, it’s always something to keep in mind.
- Grief. Transitions are difficult, no matter what the transition is. Your clients may feel sad about the change. They might also feel sad because of a past experience they’ve had either being pregnant, losing a pregnancy, or being close to a pregnancy that had issues. This emotion is an important one to work through together, unpacking and exploring the root causes of the reaction.
You cannot control your clients’ reactions. You may be able to predict how they’ll react — or you might be completely taken by surprise. You can, however, control how and when you tell your clients, which makes this planning process particularly important!
Clients might experience mental health setbacks after hearing the news or about your upcoming parental leave. This isn’t your fault, though it is something that you can both manage intentionally and with self-compassion. Conversely, some clients may improve leaps and bounds, as sometimes an abbreviated timeline can lead to breakthroughs.
To help your clients process through the change, here are a few topics to bring up in your sessions:
- How they handle change
- Coping skills that they currently have or would like to build before you go on leave
- Their internalized beliefs about pregnancies or having children
- If their mental health goal have changed and if their treatment plan also needs to change
6. Have the logistics ready - just in case labor comes early
You can rely on your timeline; however, babies have their own timelines to which they abide! Just in case, it’s a good idea to have the logistics ready in case you go into labor before you thought you would. This could include:
- Drafting out an email to your clients and your covering therapist so you can send it out easily
- Having your clients’ contact information printed out and in a private, secure location in your home
- Iterating on your timeline to incorporate a few possible due dates (a few weeks before, a few weeks after your official due date)
- Writing out a “how-to” list for any actions that need to be taken to close your business during your parental leave (i.e. how to turn off utilities)
Having the logistics ready ahead of time means that when you’re about to give birth, you don’t have to worry about your business or your clients. It also means that your clients or covering therapists aren’t in the dark about the plan, giving them certainty to lean on.
7. Think through your return
However long your parental leave is (seriously, it can be as long as you would like!), thinking through your return will render a smoother, more comfortable transition back into your private practice.
Consider your preferences to the following questions:
- How many clients will you see?
- How many days per week will you work?
- How slowly would you like your transition to be?
- Will you have enough time to pump between clients?
Taking your time and easing back into seeing clients is better than rushing back and offering lower-quality services because of your overwhelm. It’s also important to continuously check in with yourself as you transition back into your practice and scale back if needed.
8. Things won’t be the same - go easy on yourself
Needless to say, your life will not be the same after the birth of your little one. Your business won’t be the same either. It might even be better.
When you return from being out-of-office for the months you took off, you may find yourself with new perspectives about client care, business operations, or even your practice philosophy. You might also now have a deeper empathy for your clients.
However, chances are that you’ll also be a more tired version of your old self (but no less passionate about your work!). With the responsibilities of taking care of a newborn, you might find that you aren’t capable of bouncing from one session to another with the energy you used to have. That’s natural and nothing to feel bad about — be sure to have extra compassion and patience for yourself.
It’s also worth stating that you do not need to feel guilty, either about pausing your client care for a few months or for going back to work and leaving your child with another carer. Parenthood is a huge step in your life and becoming a parent is a cause for celebration, love, and devotion.
Zencare makes it simple to pause your referrals from our directory — simply change your status to “not accepting new clients.” When you’re back and ready to restart, you can change this status back and once again receive referrals to get your practice up-and-running once more.
Pregnancy is an incredibly special time. By considering the 8 items above, you’ll be all set to go on parental leave and feel comfortable with your plans — leaving you space to experience the excitement of what’s to come!