ACA Blog

Stephanie Adams
Dec 13, 2010

A Field Guide to Counseling During the Holidays

In the field of counseling, one must be constantly aware of one’s environment. An important aspect of the human habitat is the yearly phenomenon known as “the holidays”. Including Christmas, New Year’s, Hanukah, Kwanzaa and Thanksgiving, this annual ritual brings with it special challenges to those who study and treat the mental processes of the adult human. To aid in this practice, I have developed a short guide to the major groups of difficult holiday clients the counselor is likely to face.

1.The Suicidal Holiday Client. This holiday client finds the atmosphere of celebration to be difficult to bear. Since they are characterized by sudden plunges into despair requiring immediate intervention, tread lightly and empathetically around this client. Recommended Treatment: Validate the fact that the holidays can cause pain for people who do not have families or for those who have recently lost loved ones. Help them see in the bigger picture that the holiday season cannot last forever, and that they can make it through that. Encourage them to utilize community support like churches, volunteer organizations, and more to strengthen their connections with others. See also: Matt Krauze ACA blog article “The Other Half Of The Holiday Season.”
2.The Manic Mood Holiday Client. This client is the opposite of the one proceeding. They love their chosen holiday(s). They love it so much, in fact, that they convey upon it magical abilities to make everything better. Subject to extreme disappointment when life intervenes to make trash of their sugar-coated fantasies. Recommended Treatment: Encourage focus on the experience, not the outcome of their holiday season. While the season cannot erase all their issues, they can use their joy in the season to fuel their energy to change themselves and their relationships. See also: Delusional Disorder.
3.The Stuffer Holiday Client. This client has decided to “hold off” on dealing with their problems until after New Year’s. A Stuffer client or couple is not likely to appear in a counselor’s office before the conclusion of the holiday season, but will call January 2nd and demand to be seen as soon as possible. Recommended Treatment: Come into the office prepared to calm the emotional tension that has been building up for over a month and a half.
4.The Family Trauma Holiday Client. This client dreads the holidays because they have a horrible family. And not just a family like on Christmas Vacation, a family that’s been abusive verbally, physically or sexually. Their family – or society – has convinced this client that the right thing to do is “forgive and forget” so that they can all be together for the holidays. Recommended Treatment: Forgive and forget is good for family fights. It does not and should not apply to cases of long-term, unrepentant abuse. Try overcoming the mental block that this is something they “have” to do by projecting, realistically, what they can expect: more of the same. Ask them what good it does to put themselves through that, and why a family that is abusive deserves another shot at abusing the client. Encourage alternatives, like joining a friend’s holiday celebration instead.

The best thing for each of these particular client groups is to be guided towards an understanding of their method of coping with their holiday, and helped to see which is an effective and positive coping mechanism, and which reactions might be setting them up for disappointment. Each of these clients are likely to be initially unaware of their reaction to the holidays, and might be resistant to interpretation of their motives. In these cases, as in all, the mental health practitioner cannot force insight. What they can do is simply be there for the client after the holidays conclude, when the mood of the client is often more open to productive analysis.

Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at

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