Do you need to take time off from your therapy practice but not sure how to go about doing so?

For some private practice therapists, avoiding taking time off is an easy solution to keep up with business momentum and prevent income loss. For others, it just never seems like the “right” time. However, whether planned or not, there will a time when you’ll need to take some time off. When you know how to take time off from your therapy practice you’ll likely feel more prepared and less worried about the financial consequences of not seeing clients.

This article will discuss how to take time off in your therapy practice so that you can prepare financially and administratively for your leave of absence. 

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Leave

When it comes to taking time off, there are two types of leave of absences: short-term and long-term leave. Short-term leave is time off that usually spans a short-period of time such as taking an extra long weekend off, vacation time or short-term emergency leave.

Whereas long-term leave is time off that usually spans several weeks, months and in some cases even years. Some examples of long-term leave include extended vacations like backpacking across Europe, maternity leave or unexpected long-term emergency leave.

Regardless of whether you need to take a short-term or long-term leave of absence, the steps are usually the same, with some minor exceptions. But it all starts with giving yourself permission to take the leave.

Giving Yourself Permission

Why are you avoiding taking time off from your therapy practice?

There are many reasons why therapists avoid taking time off from their practice, but the number one reason the fear of losing revenue. With the second being, fear of letting their clients down by taking time away. The hard truth is that our one-to-one sessions with clients are how we make an income. And when we aren’t working with clients our revenue stalls. 

But without taking time off, you’ll eventually start feeling burnt out and potentially be forced to take time off. Unfortunately, many great therapists leave the field prematurely due to burnout. 

But the beauty of private practice is you do have control over your own workday and schedule so being able to take time off isn’t all that far fetched. But you first need to give yourself permission to take the time you need – this might just be the hardest part of the entire process. 

Steps for Taking Time Off

But giving yourself permission isn’t the only step to taking time off from your therapy practice. There are 5 administrative steps for taking time off:

Schedule Time Off in Advance, Where Possible

If you have difficulty taking vacation time, try planning for it at the beginning of each calendar year so that you have it slotted in to your schedule. Planning ahead is especially important if you intend to take a long-term leave from your practice. Scheduling your time off in advance can help prevent you from overbooking clients or other work-related commitments during the time you plan to away.

If planning a year in advance doesn’t work for you, try reevaluating your vacation needs every quarter. This can help you remain accountable to yourself and your self-care needs.

Inform Your Clients

Now inform your clients of your intended leave. After giving yourself permission to take time off, informing clients of that leave can be the next most challenging step. Sometimes we don’t always know how to tell our clients that we are taking time off from our practice without self-disclosing why we’re taking the leave. This can be especially difficult when the reason is due to a medical, familial or other personal reason. 

How to Inform Clients

As therapists we are taught to not self-disclose, but for many therapists this type of conversation feels like it needs at least some level self-disclosure for clients to understand the absence. If you’re only taking off a week or two, clients might be satisfied with common “due to an emergency” response. But if you are taking time off indefinitely some clients may need a more elaborate answer so that they don’t feel abandoned or start to worry about you and your well-being. 

But when you do inform your clients, how much is too little and how much is too much?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It really comes down to what feels right to you.

Struggling with self-disclosure?

Listen to Episode 52 of the Designer Practice Podcast called Redefining the Role of Self-Disclosure in the Therapeutic Relationship with Elizabeth Muhle.

When to Inform Clients

Also when do you tell clients that you’ll be taking some time away? 

This really depends on if it is planned or unplanned; or short-term or long-term leave of absence.

If it’s an emergency situation you won’t have a lot of notice and you might have to tell clients the day of their appointment. This certainly happened to me! When I went into labour two weeks before baby was due, I had to inform my clients via email on my way to hospital. 

But if it’s a planned leave, it’s important to provide as much time as possible. If it’s a short-term leave of absence you may provide couple weeks notice to your clients or you may choose just not to schedule any clients that day or week. However, if you’re taking long-term leave, providing at least three months notice is best practice but in cases where three months notice is not possible, then as soon as possible.

If you’re intending to take an extended vacation or maybe you’re taking maternity leave, giving your clients 3 months notice would be easy to do. However, in circumstances where you may be having a medical procedure, you may not have been given three months notice of your procedure date, so in this case you would tell your clients about your time off as soon as possible.

These are of course guidelines and there may be situations where you might want to provide more than 3 months notice and that would be fine as well. For example, if you are pregnant and offering in-person sessions you may feel compelled to tell your clients earlier due to your growing baby bump. However you primarily offer telehealth or virtual therapy, you may feel 3 months notice is suffice.

But how or when you choose to do it needs to feel comfortable for you. 

Give Emergency Coverage Contacts or Referrals 

While you’re away give emergency coverage contacts or referrals to your clients. If you’re planning a short vacation, depending on your clients’ needs, providing emergency coverage contacts such as crisis lines might suffice. But if you’re taking an extended leave it may be more appropriate to provide three therapist referrals.

Prepare for Your Time Off

Now, it’s time to prepare for your time off. Before you temporarily close the doors of your practice, there are few things to do so on the administrative side of things.

First, share your pending leave on your website and business social media accounts as well as turn off accepting clients on your therapist profiles. 

In addition, turn on your out-of-office reply on your email so that if a prospective clients reach out while you’re away, they know why you are not responding. You may even choose to add the contact information for your emergency coverage contacts or referrals in your out-of-office reply.

Finally, complete all of your client case notes and pay any outstanding bills. Knowing that you’ve clued up all of your administrative tasks can help you focus on the thing that matters the most – your time off.

Take the Time

Now it’s time for the big day, your leave of absence. Take the time off and do not cancel it unless you have a very good reason otherwise. This is your time to decompress, recover or heal and you deserve the time away. And when you return, you’ll be able to be more present with your clients.

But what if you need more time?

If you need more time, take more time. Sometimes when we decide to take an extended leave of absence, planned or not, we need more time than expected. Because you’ve provided your existing clients with referrals, they have the resources if they need them while you’re away. You still may choose to inform your clients that you’re extending your leave but most if not all clients will understand.

Ways to Manage Income Loss During Time Off

If one of your fears is losing income during your time off, there are ways you can prepare for and manage income loss. Here are 3 ways to manage income loss:

The 5% Rule

One great way to prepare for any type of leave of absence is to save a portion of your monthly income as vacation pay. A good starting point is to save 5% your monthly income and put it in a separate bank account or piggy bank. 

Although you can certainly keep your vacation pay in your usual bank account. If you keep it there you may be tempted to that money towards something else like your personal or business expenses. From my experience, having vacation pay stored somewhere other than my usual bank account allows me to save more as it’s out-of-sight out-of-mind. 

Also, depending on your finances, you may choose to save more than 5%. The more vacation pay you save, the less worried you’ll be about taking the time off when it’s time.

Timing Your Time Off

In addition to saving vacation pay, you could strategically schedule your time off around slow periods in your practice. During slow periods you’ll make less than you would during peak times. So if you decide to take time off during slow times, you’ll lose less income overall. For example, let’s say that August is slow in your practice due to your clients’ summer vacations. This would be a great time to take vacation because it would be slow for you anyway.

Passive Income

Finally, you could add passive income streams inside of your therapy practice so that you have income flowing in even when you’re taking time off. When you add passive income into your practice business model you can create a revenue ‘cushion’ that helps protect you financially, especially if an unplanned leave arises. 

There are many ways to make passive income. Episode 6 of the Designer Practice Podcast shares 15 Passive Income Streams for Therapists and Coaches. 

It’s no secret that my passive income streams have saved me numerous times due to planned and unplanned leave. Most recently was during my maternity leave. As a business owner, I am not eligible for employment insurance or any type of financial compensation related to maternity leave. So my practice is my income. One of my passive income streams is writing articles, like this one. A week prior to maternity leave I wrote a blog post, that single blog post brought in $2000 my first two months of maternity leave. And it still continues to in a substantial portion of my blogging income. 

To learn more about how to add passive income into your practice check out How Passive Income Can Grow Your Therapy or Coaching Practice.


Taking time off from your therapy practice isn’t difficult but it does mean giving yourself the permission to take the time you need while making some administrative preparations beforehand. Also, taking time off is crucial in order to prevent burnout. Whether your leave of absence is planned or unplanned, by taking the time you need to decompress, recover and heal, you are showing you’re clients that it’s okay to do the same. 


Please be advised that this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional advice.

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