Stepping Away Without Stepping Back: A Guide for Preparing for Out-of-Office Time

As a behavioral health professional, just the idea of taking time off may elevate your heart rate. Whether it’s concerns about client care continuity or ensuring the administrative aspects remain in order, it can be hard to press pause on your private practice. However, prioritizing your well-being is crucial—not just for your own health but for the quality of care you provide. 

Preparation and communication are key to enjoying a guilt-free break. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for your out-of-office time, ensuring peace of mind for both you and your clients.

Communicating Your Absence

Start Early. As soon as you have your vacation dates settled, begin to let your clients know. This gives them time to process the information and plan accordingly. It’s also a respectful way to acknowledge the importance of their treatment process.

Be Clear and Concise. Whether it’s verbally in session, through a written notice, or both, ensure your message about being out of the office is clear. Provide the exact dates you’ll be unavailable and mention when you’ll be returning. Keep the tone professional yet empathetic, recognizing that this break might impact them.

Set Boundaries. Make it clear if you will be completely inaccessible or if there will be limited circumstances under which you can be reached. Setting these expectations early helps manage any potential anxieties your clients might have about your absence.

Prepare Your Clients. Discuss with your clients what they can do if they find themselves struggling during your absence. This might involve creating a plan that includes coping strategies you’ve worked on together. For some clients, it might be beneficial to increase sessions leading up to your departure or schedule a check-in immediately upon your return.

Preparing Your Practice

Plan for Coverage. If possible, arrange for a trusted colleague to be available to your clients in case of emergencies. This is particularly important for clients who are at a higher risk or in the midst of a more intense phase of treatment. Ensure you have a clear agreement on what constitutes an emergency and the process for contact. We have a network of statewide clinicians and case managers to help form those trusted connections.

Administrative Duties. Ensure all paperwork, billing, and communication with third parties (including with us if you’re a HAM affiliate!) are up to date. This way, we can continue serving you even while you’re away. Set up an automated email response that reiterates your absence and provides information on who to contact in case of an emergency. If you have a practice website or online booking system, update your availability there as well.

Secure Client Information. Ensure all client files and information are securely stored and that only authorized personnel have access to them. 

Returning to Work

Upon your return, take the time to reconnect with clients and catch up on their progress or challenges during your time away. 

Taking time off is not just a luxury, it’s a necessity for your mental and physical health, reducing the risk of burnout and ensuring you can provide the best care for your clients. With thoughtful preparation and clear communication, you can create a system that supports both you and your clients, making your time away from the office a restorative pause that benefits everyone involved. Remember, stepping away doesn’t mean stepping back from your commitment to your clients—it means stepping back stronger, recharged, and ready to engage fully in the therapeutic process.

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