Vacation Checklist for Private Practice Therapists: 12 Things to Do Before, During, and After Vacation

Therapists can often have a hard time practicing what they preach when it comes to taking a break from work – and taking themselves on a vacation. Think about it: How often do you encourage your clients to take time for themselves? With clients depending on you each week for emotional support, you hold a large amount of responsibility. However, this is even more of a reason to take a vacation!

Vacations aren’t just sandy stays at the beach or backpacking across Europe. They’re buffers for burnout, giving the space you need to meet your own emotional needs. Taking time off from your private practice helps you avoid feeling checked out or exhausted. Vacations also give you a chance to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones, as well as create lasting memories.

This checklist will help prepare you for a true vacation from your practice – a vacation sans emails – so that you can return to your clients feeling ready and refreshed.

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What to do before you leave

By preparing for your vacation well ahead of time, you’ll be able to jet off without worrying about what you’re leaving behind – and take a true break from your private practice. Here are four ways to prepare before you leave.

1. Tell your clients beforehand, and give them plenty of time to prepare

When you’re planning a vacation (or even a staycation!), consider timing when it comes to telling your clients. The earlier you tell your clients about your vacation, the more time there is for them to adjust to the idea. Depending on the client, they may have an emotional reaction to your upcoming absence, even if it’s a temporary one. You’ll be able to support them as they process through what comes up for them, and leave them feeling comfortable with the idea.

Emailing clients a few weeks ahead of time is a great way to explicitly share the information of your time off. In the email, share the dates that you’ll be out-of-office. You might also include information about your leave, including the plan for while you’re out and any guidelines that you have for your clients. Consider emailing them again one week before you leave as well to remind them that you’ll be out on vacation.

2. Find coverage for your practice

If you’re going to be out-of-office for more than one week, it’s standard practice to find coverage in the event that your clients would like to see a therapist in the interim and in case of emergencies. Finding a colleague to cover your sessions for you or to step in if there’s an emergency is a way for your clients to continue their mental health care even in your absence.

Many clients will be alright with skipping a few sessions – they sometimes need a break too. Ask your clients how comfortable they feel going a few weeks (or however long you’ll be out) without therapy. If they express that they would feel more comfortable speaking with another therapist while you’re on vacation, determine which colleague will provide this coverage.

As you prepare to leave, make any notes that covering therapists might need as they step in to support your clients. Is there anything that your covering therapist needs to know about particular cases? What are you currently working on with these clients? This gives your covering therapist a sense of where to start the session and won’t leave them caught off-guard (and be more likely to cover for you again in the future).

3. Turn on your out-of-office assistant and change your voicemail

As you’re leaving the office, make sure that your outgoing messages reflect your absence. If you’re aiming to recharge over your vacation, getting email notifications certainly will not help. By turning on your email’s auto-reply out-of-office assistant and changing your voicemail greeting, your clients and colleagues will know that you’re temporarily out-of-reach.

Being explicit in your messaging ensures that everyone is on the same page. It also sets expectations for your belated responses.

Here are a few key details to include in your away messages:

If you have other responsibilities at your private practice, complete all outstanding tasks so you don’t have them on your mind while you’re away. This includes taking care of any open bills or client payments.

If you’re going away for a longer period (lucky you!), consider turning off certain services in your office such as internet or cleaning services – if you don't need it, no point in paying for it. You might also ask someone to collect the mail for your office and keep it safe until you return.

By wrapping up the business side of your private practice, you’ll be able to rest assured that everything is under control while you’re relaxing on your vacation.

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What to bring with you

It’s time to get to your vacation… and have fun! Here are a few considerations as you pack up to take your much-deserved time off.

Even though you won’t need to do any work while on your vacation, bringing a few practice-related items may help you take comfort in knowing that if an emergency does arise with one of your clients, you’ll have what you need to handle it.

This might include:

Bringing this information is just for peace of mind, in case you need it – hopefully you won’t. But having it will help you feel like you’re prepared for those emergency moments. This preparation will in turn give you the security to go and have a blast on your trip.

6. Bring fun vacation items

What do you like to do when you’re on vacation? Bring fun things to do when you go away – remember, vacations are for relaxing and recharging. And the best way to recharge? Having a good time!

Need some ideas to get you started on your packing list? Here are a few favorites:

Vacation can also be about connecting with your loved ones. Whether you connect with them over activities or simply by relaxing next to each other, be sure to bring everything you need to have a fun time.

7. Don’t forget your practical vacation items

In addition to those “fun” items, be sure to prepare your practical items. Don’t forget the following practical vacation items:

We hope that both the “fun” items and the practical items all fit in your pack. But really, what’s so difficult about checking a bag? It is a vacation.

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What to do while you’re away

Now that you’re on vacation, what do your days look like? Remember, you deserve this vacation after a long season of helping clients and running a private practice. By relaxing and recharging, you’ll be better equipped to support those around you when you return.

8. Disconnect from devices!

Depending on the feasibility, consider disconnecting from all of your devices. If you’re not going to engage with clients while you’re out-of-office (which we highly recommend) to ensure that you’re getting a full break, consider not bringing your computer or temporarily deleting the work-related apps from your phone.

You’ll likely still get the occasional email from a client or colleague. By turning off your email notifications, your attention will stay focused on your vacation activities. You might also leave your phone in another room and only check it a few times a day.

If you’re coordinating with a covering therapist, they will handle any emergencies that come up. If they do reach out to you, you’ll need to decide how involved you will become. This is an opportunity to set boundaries, if needed! There’s nothing wrong with responding to emails, but after you finish responding, try to re-engage with your vacation activities fully.

9. Reconnect with yourself & your circle

Thanks to social media and old-fashioned social pressure, people often feel obligated to have the best times of their lives while on vacation. This could lead to an overpacked itinerary or feeling pressured to make the most of every day. Be sure to take time for yourself to relax outside of any activities. Sitting in solitude at a cafe can be just as rewarding as going parasailing!

It’s also vital in preventing burnout to feel connected to those around you. If you brought friends, family, or loved ones on your trip with you, designate an activity each day to do together. Giving yourself time to laugh with and love those around you is an effective way to feel refreshed after stressful times at work.

What to do when you get back

At some point, realistically, you will return back to your private practice. Whether you're ready to hit the ground running or easing out of vacation-mode, here are a few things to do when you get back.

Returning to a full inbox and voicemail box might make you lose the relaxed feeling you gained on your vacation – so be intentional about your “catch-up” period. Designate time when you first get back to the office to triage your emails and voicemails. While you’ll likely need to get back to everyone at some point, determining who needs your response today versus later in the week will give you the space to prioritize.

Once you’re back, check in with your covering therapist about how any sessions with your clients went. You might read their notes and have follow-up questions to ask them in-person. If an emergency did arise in your absence, follow-up with your clients and see what they need from you.

Now that you’re ready to restart, reset your out-of-office assistant and voicemail message to their regular settings.

Take a few deep breaths and think back to the fun times that you had when you were away. Getting back into the groove might be difficult for the first few days, but know that you took a vacation for the sake of your own self-preservation – a pursuit worth continuing upon your return.

11. Give yourself time to readjust

If you do find yourself struggling to be back at your practice, give yourself time to readjust. It’s hard to come back after a trip, so allow yourself grace as you transition back into your work routines.

To tangibly do this, set breaks during the day where you can sit back and relax, whatever that looks like for you. If you need to postpone sessions for a few days after you return, that’s normal. Clients would rather meet with a relaxed and ready version of you, rather than someone overwhelmed with the state of their inbox.

12. Start planning your next getaway

There’s no better time to plan a getaway than right when you get home from one. Consider what the rest of the year looks like for you. When will you need another break from work? When will you want to recharge for the sake of your own mental health?

Next… where do you want to go? What or who would you like to see? Just because therapists have weekly commitments to clients doesn’t mean that you can’t take trips. As long as you’re intentional, prepared, and communicative about your vacations, you too can travel, relax, and have fun elsewhere.

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