Therapists' Holiday Self-Care: Balancing Client Needs and Personal Wellness

Not all superheroes wear capes. Some superheroes, like therapists, have couches from which clients arise feeling lighter and more balanced, with a greater sense of their own innate resilience. While the work that therapists do is incredible and transformative, even they need time off. The holidays are a common time to take time away from work, not only leading to a reduced risk for burnout, but also for therapists to maintain their sense of fulfillment and joy in the work that they do.

Despite understanding how important it is to take breaks, many therapists struggle to switch off during the holidays. Read on to learn how to take effective time off during the holidays so you can practice self-care.

two sets of light skinned hands holding glasses of warm beverages

Set boundaries and manage expectations

The holidays are a time to slow down, reflect on the year, and spend time with loved ones. For the holiday break to reach its full recharging potential, it’s important for therapists to set boundaries and manage client expectations ahead of time, so they know when you’re available. A month before your time off begins, you might start to talk to your clients about what the holidays will look like and when your practice will be closed. This can help them by setting their expectations and avoiding any surprises.

While the holidays are known for their festive nature, this time of the year can also come with its own unique stressors. For those who don’t have healthy relationships with their family, spending extended periods of time around family members can lead to emotional fatigue or even distress. The holidays also lead to disruptions in regular daily routines, which can be challenging for many people who rely on a strong routine for their physical and mental health. By bringing up the holidays well in advance, you can talk to clients about your availability while also encouraging them to establish plans for their own self-care.

Setting boundaries might look like sharing that you’ll be out of reach for a specific period of time, or communicating that you’ll only return urgent emails. Having the conversation about how long you’ll be away can help your clients to get used to the idea that you’ll be out of touch for a period of time, so they’ll need to make alternate plans for support.

If you are taking time off and are a part of the Zencare network, be sure to put in place an out-of-office notice on your Zencare profile through our new vacation responder tool. You can do this by showing your availability as temporarily closed so prospective clients know that they likely won’t receive a response until you’re back.

All that being said, the therapy journey can be a strenuous one even when it’s worthwhile and healing — your clients might also be looking forward to taking some time off of sessions!

Explore external support and coping strategies

If your clients appear concerned that your practice will be closed over the holidays, you can work with them ahead of time to explore other sources of support they can tap into. This might look like writing out a list together of people they trust and can turn to if necessary, such as a close friend or a sibling. You might also share the contact information of hotlines or local mental health centers to call if they’re in crisis. Even if they don’t use it, simply having this list can be a sense of comfort for clients.

Similarly, talking through coping strategies your clients can use during the holidays ahead of your break can be a beneficial conversation for peace of mind on both sides. Your conversation might include any of the following topics to help your client get ready for the holidays and your impending time away:

Lastly, it’s important that you don’t lose sight of the role modeling that you’re doing for your clients by showing them that taking time off from work is essential for well-being. This can be a helpful mindset to adopt, particularly if you’re the one feeling separation anxiety from your work and your practice.

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Focus on you

Once you’ve shared with your clients that you’ll be out-of-office and talked about how they’ll take care of themselves during your time off, it’s time to focus on you and maximize your vacation. What do you like to do when you’re not working? What self-care activities do you have planned for yourself?

It might feel strange to take time off of work, especially if you’ve spent the last year growing your practice. Vacation is a good time to take stock of your needs and determine your priorities for the time that you have without work, as self-care in an abundance of free time looks quite different from self-care in a packed schedule. You might ask yourself the following questions:

By identifying how you want to spend your time, you’ll be set up for a restorative vacation that fills up your cup. And sometimes, sitting on the couch watching TV is exactly what you need to do to find a sense of rest and relaxation!

Strategies for self care

If you aren’t sure what you want to plan during your holiday period, here are a few ideas to get you started:


However you plan to spend your free time this holiday season, focusing on self-care is a powerful way of creating a sustainable therapist practice. When you prioritize your self-care as a therapist — and when you take time away from seeing clients to practice self-care — you’re setting yourself up to live and work with meaning, energy, and joy. Taking a break and making an intentional plan to take care of yourself means that you’ll return to work ready to continue helping others.

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