For many people Christmas can be such a joyful time, but it can also be an unexpectedly lonely time of year for all sorts of very valid reasons. For those who have been seeing a therapist, attending a group session or a day patient, taking a break from therapy over Christmas can be a welcome break or maybe it can make you feel more lonely.
I’ve been attending therapy with Pieta House since September 2019. A week before Christmas, I was really struggling with my mental health. How do you react when you’ve just had a really difficult Sunday evening and your therapist announces that your weekly appointments will commence after Christmas and New Year? When it may be the only source of hope you are holding onto?
The benefits of counselling
Counselling is a powerful tool for some people in supporting hem with a range of mental health issues like depression, OCD, borderline personality disorder, bipolar and etc. Having someone to talk to, who is there specifically to listen to you, is an invaluable support to many people. It is something that I’m glad to finally come to terms with and not be ashamed to say that I attend counselling.
For some people, therapy can feel like hard work. Painful feelings can emerge and talking about difficult situations can feel hard, triggering old memories. So the prospect of a break from weekly, or regular, therapy sessions can feel like a relief for some people.
Perhaps being unable to meet with your therapist during the break can feel traumatic. Perhaps the relationship and regular meetings with your therapist have become an important part of your week. I know it is for me. You rely on your therapist for support. It may be the most significant relationship you have, and even if not, it helps you cope with difficult feelings or situations. A familiar sense of abandonment may surface. You may fear all sorts. You may not feel ready to go it alone. It may feel scary and overwhelming and you may wonder how you’ll cope without the structure of your regular weekly session.
Learning from the break
If you know about the break in advance, it can help to tune into your feelings and thoughts about it. Try to acknowledge how you’re feeling about having a break from therapy and talk as honestly as possible with your therapist about it all. I think it definitely makes a difference. This way, the break itself (or more accurately, processing the break) can become a valuable part of your healing and growth in therapy.
I think it’s also not uncommon for those attending therapy to feel like wanting to skip a session just before a therapy break. Your conscious reasons for missing your session (or wanting to) often seem sensible and grounded in practicalities. But skipping a session before a break may be linked to something deeper too. I know that I have had this thought process before.
As hard as it would be, I was encouraged to make every effort to attend all the sessions in the run-up to the therapy break, so I can know I am facing things head-on and doing the work, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Opportunity to grow
Having this break can perhaps be an opportunity to work on some of the things you have been exploring in therapy and it can also help you look beyond the relationship with your therapist, which may be necessary to do one day.
In essence, the questions here are about how you can soothe yourself during this time, and how you take something from this break which can be useful for your therapy when you return in the new year. Maybe it’s looking at other tools and resources, such as helplines and relationships which can support you. Having some sort of backup plan can help ease into this temporary break.
Essentially, whether welcome or unwelcome, a break from therapy at this time of year can offer space to reflect on how the therapy is going and what might be useful and important to address in the next phase.
While the Christmas break from your therapist may feel like being left alone, it may give you the opportunity to work through issues such as disappointment, frustration, separation and abandonment. Comfort can be taken from the fact that the break is only temporary. Therapy can resume again in the new year and may feel even more helpful than it was before with the experience of this temporary break to draw on.