Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vacations. Stay-cations. Time off, whatever you call it or do during it, is absolutely crucial - for everyone, in my opinion, but especially for the "helping professions." That's one big reason to ask about and consider vacation benefits when looking for a job!

However, having vacation/paid time off available as a benefit doesn't make it easy to actually take it! There are at least two primary reasons. First, in spite of all our talk about self-care, there are still some workaholics among us. We feel like we're letting people down if we take time off, we're afraid our clients (or staff) can't manage without us, we feel unproductive if we're not working, or we don't like spending too much time with ourselves (or perhaps our families). There are all kinds of reasons we talk ourselves out of using our vacation time!

Second, in addition to all the ways we talk ourselves out of taking time off, our employers, colleagues, and/or clients may also discourage us from taking time off. At the various places I've worked, it's consistently been hard to take time off (even though I will never let my vacation time go unused!).

In milieu contexts, where I've worked as part of a treatment team, there has never been any provision for coverage. While inpatient settings sometimes bring in per diem clinicians to cover vacations, the partial and IOP programs where I've worked have expected other members of the treatment team to pick up the slack when someone is out, covering groups and clients in addition to their own groups and clients. That means every time you take time off, you're inconveniencing everyone else, so there can be a little bit of guilt. It also means that it's extra-hard for more than one person to be out at once - especially problematic during holidays and summer travel season.

In individual therapy, there really is no such thing as "coverage." Sure, someone covers for emergencies, but clients aren't going to really do therapy with someone else for a week or two! That makes it both easier, and harder to get away. It's easier because you're not creating extra work for colleagues, but it's harder because of the impact on clients. There is never the perfect time to take time off. There is always the chance that one (or more) clients might be struggling, and risk issues make it a little nerve-wracking to interrupt treatment, especially if the client is reluctant to reach out to whatever emergency coverage you've arranged. Clients may give you a guilt trip about leaving, and do sometimes decompensate due to the break in treatment.

A helpful antidote to guilt, whether it comes from our clients, our colleagues, or our own work ethic, is to remember that it's better for everyone in the long run if we consistently take time off. It protects against burn-out and compassion fatigue. It improves morale, and keeps us happy at our jobs for longer. It improves our attitudes, our interactions with colleagues, and our effectiveness with clients. We need the restoration of time away from work, taking a real break (not just a day or two) to let go of the responsibility and think about other things. Trust me, it really does improve both the quality of our work and the quality of our lives!

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