“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ―Maya Angelou

When you are a therapist in private practice, taking a vacation can seem daunting for a variety of reasons. Who will care for your patients while you are away? Can you really afford to take a time off? What if there is an emergency?

While private practice offers many benefits for therapists, it does not provide paid time off or a team of colleagues who can readily assume your responsibilities. But vacations are an important part of self-care and a preventative against burnout. Taking time off as a private practice therapist might require a little more advanced planning, but the payoff makes the extra effort well worthwhile. Taking regular vacations has been correlated with better physical health, decreased stress, and increased productivity. Summer is only a few short months away, so use the checklist below to start planning your next out-of-office!

Plan ahead

Ideally, you accounted for days off when you set your private practice budget and rates. If not, you might need to make some adjustments going forward. For example, maybe you raise your rates to accommodate vacation days. Alternatively, you could take on additional clients to cover the cost of taking time off. If you can’t swing a full week off, try for an extended weekend, Friday through Monday. Depending on your caseload, you may be able to rearrange your clients to minimize the number of missed sessions.

Alert your patients

Your patients will need some time to prepare for your absence. You can notify them by email or a printed notice displayed in your office, but make sure to follow up with them in person. Make a plan for how they will receive support while you are gone– for example, from family members or other health care providers. Discuss with your client any anticipated stressors and the coping skills they will use to manage them. Talk about what to do in the case of a clinical emergency. Document these conversations in your psychotherapy notes.

Arrange coverage

The American Counseling Association mandates therapists “make appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment, when necessary, during interruptions such as vacations, illness, and following termination.” In fact, if you don’t plan for these situations, you may be legally responsible for anything that happens in your absence. So, tag a colleague or two and offer to trade out-of-office coverage. Prep the covering provider with any necessary clinical information for optimal continuity of care. Although HIPPA allows for this type of exchange, you should still let your patients know and get a signed release, if possible. Finally, make sure your patients and the covering provider are clear on how sessions will be billed in your absence, as different providers charge different rates and may not accept the same insurance plans.

Set away messages

Your vacation won’t be very rejuvenating if you are constantly distracted by emails, phone calls, and other notifications. Make sure you change your voicemail greeting to include the dates that you are away, who is covering for you, and how to reach the covering provider. Equip your email with an automated out-of-office reply containing the same information.


We have all come to rely on our phones for communication, entertainment, and even travel arrangements. It can be difficult to disconnect completely, but the more you are able to unplug, the more benefit you will reap from your time off. If you maintain a separate cell phone for work, consider leaving it at home. If you must bring your phone with you, try leaving it powered off at certain times of the day. Silence your notifications, and make a pact with yourself to only check messages at certain intervals.

Ease your reentry

There are few things more jarring than coming back from a relaxing week away to find your inbox flooded with messages. All of the relaxation you accumulated on vacation evaporates with one click of the mouse! If your schedule allows, try building in a “catch-up” period of a day or two so that you don’t become immediately overwhelmed upon your return. Vacations are an investment in your well-being; make sure you protect that investment by pacing your reentry!


Taking a vacation as a private practice therapist requires consideration and planning, but the benefits are numerous. Not only will you be more present and focused upon your return, but you will be setting a valuable example for your clients by prioritizing your own self-care!

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