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The 5 Emotions I Feel When My Therapist Goes on Vacation

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I’ve been seeing my therapist for almost two years now, and I consider our relationship to be one of the most significant ones in my life. Week after week, I’ve sat in my therapist’s office and eventually learned that it was OK to allow myself to be vulnerable in front of another human being. Over a long period of time, I discovered that healing was indeed possible, and I gained insights which led to personal growth.

All this to say that therapy has taught me a lot about myself, and I’m incredibly grateful, privileged and lucky to be given the opportunity to see my therapist weekly. The exception, of course, is when she leaves on vacation. Today, I’d like to share what it’s like for me when my therapist leaves on vacation, or needs to be away for any other reason. Most often, her being away gives me some strong emotional reactions, both positive and negative.

1. Devastation

Whenever my therapist announces that we’ll be taking a break, my first reaction is feelings of devastation followed by an incredible amount of fear. Her announcement usually brings up a lot of anxiety as well as feelings of abandonment. I think, “Is this our last meeting? Will I ever see my therapist again?” I convince myself my therapist will leave forever and will never come back. Seriously, it feels like loss and like I have to prepare myself to say goodbye forever.

2. Anger

The second emotion I experience when my therapist is away is anger. Not necessarily at her, but more towards the circumstances. I don’t feel furious or outraged; instead, I feel irritated and exasperated. I think, Why does she have to leave me now, when I need her most? Why can’t she be away at any other time? What an annoyance and inconvenience. Then, my anger is usually replaced by guilt and shame, as I start to feel selfish and tell myself I should be happy for her taking time for herself, since even therapists need to take breaks sometimes.

3. Fear

After anger comes more fear, as well as a feeling of fake indifference. I experience the fear of appearing too needy, and worry about seeming too emotionally attached or dependent. I fear appearing desperate and I feel weak for feeling like I need a therapist in the first place.

Interestingly enough, my fears are usually covered up with a big thick layer of “couldn’t care less.” In those moments, to avoid feeling vulnerable, I adopt a “couldn’t care less” attitude. I think, Who needs therapy anyway? I think, It’s not even that helpful. I don’t know why I waste so much time going to therapy. I think, Why did I even show up in the first place?

In reality, the opposite is true. I act like I don’t even care whether I see my therapist or not, but inside I feel differently. I convince myself I don’t enjoy therapy and that I better quit. It is easier to think that way than to admit aloud that I do miss my therapist terribly and think about her daily. It’s harder to admit to myself that I want to talk to her, and do value the work we do together. I claim I don’t miss or even need her in my life anymore, but that’s a lie. I have this false belief if I pretend I don’t care, it will hurt less if something bad happens in our relationship. And that is the reason I never admit aloud that I do miss her presence, and the reason I feel so much self-hate when I allow myself to feel vulnerable in front of her.

4. Relief

Even though my therapist being away brings up a lot of negative emotions, the experience does have its advantages. For instance, I enjoy vacations from therapy because let’s face it, therapy is challenging and requires a lot of hard work. It requires time and effort. When I’m invested in my therapy, it feels great, but it also feels emotionally draining and time-consuming. So breaks are sometimes more than welcome, because they allow me to recharge. It is also a great opportunity for me to reflect on my therapy goals and contemplate which direction I’d like to go next. In this sense, I believe that therapy vacations are necessary, and an essential part of the healing process.

Vacations from therapy also bring me relief, because they force me to challenge my fears and irrational beliefs. For example, one of my biggest fears is abandonment. When my therapist leaves and then safely returns a few weeks later, I get concrete proof that not everyone I care about will leave me. Sometimes when my therapist comes back, I show up to our next appointment feeling genuinely surprised to see her there. It is a delightful feeling and makes me appreciate our work together even more than I did before. At times, when my brain registers that she is really back, I feel shocked because I expected to never see her again.

5. Confidence

Lastly, vacations from therapy tend to do wonders for my level of self-esteem. Taking breaks from therapy boosts my confidence, as I realize that I don’t need to see my therapist every single week. Every day is an affirmation that I can survive beyond our therapeutic relationship, and that her not being there isn’t the end of the world. I realize that I can cope and handle things on my own. I feel a sense of growing independence and agency, as I discover that I can rely on my own abilities and trust my decisions without needing someone else’s opinion. It eliminates some of that sense of over dependency and reduces my feelings of constant neediness. Of course, I realize that we do need to depend on other people to a certain extent in order to thrive and be happy. However, what I’m trying to say is that sometimes others won’t be there for us for a number of reasons, but that no matter what happens, we still have ourselves and our internal strength.

In short, vacations from therapy have helped me tremendously, even though they’ve also triggered some feelings of loss and rejection. One thing I love about being in a therapeutic relationship is that it can teach you a lot about the ways you interact with the world, and can shed light on some of the more problematic dynamics you might encounter in your interpersonal relationships.

On a last note, and I speak strictly from personal experience here, I think that missing your therapist is normal and I’d argue that such an emotional response is actually a sign of a good therapeutic relationship. I would feel more worried if I felt indifferent and didn’t care at all about my therapy as well as my therapist.

My last observation is this: I realized, after months of seeing my therapist, that even when there is a physical distance between us, I can still benefit from our relationship in some way. Even when I’m not sitting in her office, it doesn’t mean I still can’t benefit from her support in an indirect way. I can mentally review our numerous sessions or analyze bits of conversation. I can write her letters or journal about our best moments together. As human beings, we tend to internalize experiences and try to make sense of them. In my case, whenever I find myself in an awkward situation or experience emotional distress, I know I will eventually hear my therapist’s voice inside my head, and that her words will act as a healing balm to soothe painful feelings or intense emotions.

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Thinkstock photo via Maranatha Pizarras

Originally published: October 25, 2017
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