At my last agency position, I was happy to have good vacation benefits. I earned about 3 weeks, and during my last few years there, I took every day. During my first year however, I certainly didn't use all my days. I felt I needed to work my way up and prove myself. It was too easy to fall into the trap of staying later than everyone else, finishing paperwork slower than my grandmother typing with one finger. A lot of people in my office ‘cashed-in’ vacation days at the end of the year, or lost them.
The culture around taking vacation at any job I’ve had has been relatively similar. Never mind the guilt that could come with taking time off from seeing clients. You might have to be a bit of a maverick to take a vacation and feel good about it. The guilt along with worries about my clients made it difficult to leave the office before any trip.
Then came my wedding in India. The trip would be almost 3 weeks and I would have little access to internet, my phone and other ways I tethered myself to the office before. Just a few days in India's dusty, flavorful, noise sparked something magical. Among the music, food and family I felt who I was outside of being a therapist and outside of my job. Other parts of my identity rose to the surface. My playfulness and curiosity served me in exploring ruins and castles, not the theory and practice of psychotherapy.
Upon my return, most of my clients had done just fine, and were glad I took the time away. Some part of me was a little confused the office didn't burn down in my absence. Could our culture encourage this self-importance in favor of 'productivity'? The parts of me caught up in that trap were somewhat released. After taking time off, I notice the parts of myself that are not productive and accept them, enjoy them. No one can create and be curious 100 percent of the time. My role as a therapist is important, and taking time off does not get in the way of that. In fact, I know vacation supports my productivity and the value of my work.
In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert explores how natural curiosity ebbs and flows, and how being kind to ourselves about what we create/produce can help us avoid creativity-killing anxiety. As therapists, our curious minds and caring hearts may need rest. We may feel bored, tired or lost about our work. Part of vacation is taking time to reduce the pressure of always being productive.
Today outside of work I checked email, read a book about treatment, wrote this blog, and read an article about mental health on facebook. I am constantly connecting to myself as a therapist. Which is great and all. Over the past month, I haven't written a blog post. I didn't read much or get into my counseling theory. I went exploring new places in the world, took in the sights. I connected with my own true nature and the many aspects of me that don't include being a therapist. Right now in my life, I can take that trip and get away. At other times in my life, it just wasn't possible. Taking a stay-cation, using all your days, or taking a 'mental health day' are all options if you can't get out of town. Do you have other ways of tuning into the many parts of who you are as a person? Leave your ideas in the comments below!
Amy Rosechandler, MS, LMHC is a counselor in Rochester, NY working with teens and adults at a local university counseling center and in her own private practice, Clarity Mental Health Counseling. Amy adores group counseling, youth development, and strengths based approaches to therapy. Read more about Amy at