As a counselor one of the dilemmas I see people encounter around this time of year is deciding whether to keep (or start) therapy appointments going during the summer. For many of the children and families I work with summer offers a break from the many commitments that are part of the daily school year routine. A chance to take a deep breathe, shut things down and enjoy more freedom. Cue Alice Cooper's "School's Out (For Summer)" or the more mellow sound of Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind" (a personal favorite of mine!).
While the freedom is a nice change of pace, inevitably, it poses it's own set of challenges. Whether that is trying to avoid summer boredom, chaotic days due to lack of structure and routine, or juggling the ever changing itinerary from one week to the next of summer trips, swim team, sports camps, summer camps, sleep overs, and more. In short, it has it's pros and cons. As the summer approaches each year I am often asked by parents what is my recommendation for maintaining summer therapy for their child.
Here are some things to think about when it comes to making the decision regarding, whether or not to keep counseling appointments going in the summer...
- School troubles will naturally "disappear" in the summer when your student's teacher or school counselor, who may have had you on speed dial during the year, are enjoying their own summer hiatus. This can lead to a false sense of "everything is perfectly fine."
- The freedom of summer offers a fantastic opportunity to really focus on developing the coping strategies your child will call upon during the upcoming school year when the stressors of grades, social interactions, sports, and homework, to name a few, resume. These coping strategies can become habits through daily practice at home.
- A break from therapy can give you a chance to gauge how things are moving along with the work that has been done thus far as well as gain some new perspectives.
- Without the countless distractions and time commitments, summer offers a wonderful time to make some solid progress to prepare for the next school year and the upcoming stress you or your child experiences. Think proactive vs. reactive.
- Rather than going cold turkey, spacing out appointments to every other week, to accommodate summer vacations and camps, can be a helpful alternative. This allows your child to maintain/grow a strong rapport with the counselor as well as gain some positive momentum going into the school year.
- Summer does not mean problem free. Life happens 24/7/365. Summer has it's own host of problems. While academics aren't in the picture, difficulty could be your child struggling with...their interacts with other children in the neighborhood, handling their emotions when they hear "No", sibling conflict with lots more time together, lack of structure, defiant behavior, or fear of the dark or summer thunderstorms.
- Many summer plans like a trip to the beach can be tremendously therapeutic! Toes in the sand, the crashing waves, sounds of seagulls. Aaaaah! Note...a trip to the beach or the relatives could spell meltdown city for your child. I have heard the horror stories before from parents about how their child ruined all or part of a family trip with their emotional outbursts.
- With less on your plate, summer can offer the chance to focus on counseling (vs. school) thus fitting in more appointments and getting more work in.
- An early appointment time can be a helpful wake up for your child, especially adolescents who might not otherwise even think about getting their day going before noon o'clock.
- You and your child's mental health is no less important during summer. Ask yourself, would you go to the doctor during the summer if your child had a cold or would you simply take a break?
There is no perfect answer when it comes to summer therapy. There are lots of things to consider. Each individual, each child, each family is different. There is no one size fit all. If you are thinking about starting counseling or currently attending it is likely for a good reason. Talk openly with your counselor about the thoughts you have regarding therapy in the summer as well as any plans you may have. Therapists (certainly this one) relishes open and genuine dialogue. Work together as a team to determine what works best for your situation. And remember, your mental health is important year round.