by Khara Brindle
It’s that time of year. The time where you might feel the urge to disengage from therapy in response to the season, holidays, or stress. The time when you may need an appointment the most in order to support you through trauma, family conflict, isolation, and loneliness. For some, the crises seem to intensify during the holidays. Perhaps you are experiencing depression symptoms due to the winter weather or maybe you are battling loneliness in spending the holidays away from your loved ones. Perhaps you are attempting to navigate the unwanted memories of trauma during your family’s holiday dinner or are experiencing high anxiety because of money stress and holiday shopping. You on your journey to sobriety and anticipate having to navigate holiday parties around family and friends where temptation may lead to relapse. Combine these stressful situations with your ability to cope and you may feel you can engage in therapy fully to receive support, or in some cases, desire to disengage in response to the overwhelming feeling of all that is weighing you down. It can feel like a balancing act to engage your supports when feeling stressed, but rest assured, it can be an empowering experience to engage in through the holiday season in support of your personal and relationship goals.
The more easily measured type of avoidance when overwhelmed is a change in attendance in your scheduled sessions. Perhaps you find yourself canceling sessions when in the past, you’ve been consistent in attending each week. Or maybe you find yourself cancelling last minute due to feeling like you need to use that time or money for another task? How do you explore your needs when you haven’t been able to justify spending the time or money on your own mental health? Depending on how your therapist structures sessions, you may want to consider advocating for yourself in exploring the following:
• Completing a phone call with your therapist to communicate what is going on in your world and attempt to re-engage in sessions to support managing your stress.
• Engaging in a phone session instead of a face-to-face to explore and address present stressors if you are unable to attend in person.
• Identifying a different appointment time that encourages attendance such as an early morning before work or later evening if appropriate and depending on if your therapist has openings at
• Identifying biweekly or monthly sessions for the holiday season to account for financial constraints and time management.
• Reviewing your attendance contract with your therapist to explore opportunities and restrictions, such as possibly placing scheduled appointments on hold and resuming at a later time if
Emotionally checking out
The hope is that with ongoing rapport, the conversations with your therapist above can support you with healthy communication and accountability when experiencing increased distress. Your relationship with your therapist, or rapport, becomes even more important when you find yourself engaged by your therapist around a lack of emotional participation in session. Perhaps you begin to notice that you struggle to arrive on time to your scheduled appointments, jumping into sessions with details unrelated to yourself or changing subjects rapidly throughout the scheduled time. Or maybe you remain surface-level in your processing, not dropping down into emotions and deeper meaning in session because you are avoiding the stress or have worries that it will become unbearable when talking about it. With healthy communication, you can name what’s going on for you and process the outcomes with your therapist. Here are some examples of how you might start the conversation:
• In response to running late: “I’m struggling to get here on time and it feels rushed lately, like we have to fit it all in. Can I talk to you more about what that’s like for me?”
• In response to staying surface-level: “I have to admit, it’s easier to talk about the lighter things than the deeper, more stressful stuff. I think I’m worried that if we talk about it, it will just make
me feel worse.”
• To encourage connection: “I feel very disconnected from my body, like my head is fuzzy and floating and I just want to be numb rather than this stressed all the time. Can you help me feel
more like myself?”
• To encourage feedback: “I’m needing something different in our sessions to help me. Can I talk to you more about that?”
• To name fears: “I’m afraid that if we talk about these things, I won’t be able to function or get things done afterwards,” or “I’m reluctant to talk about this now because we won’t have our next
appointment until after the holiday.”
Any of these statements can lead to a supportive conversation with your therapist to further identify and explore your needs. These sessions can prove to be some of the most impactful and fruitful in not only holding space for emotion and processing of stress, but also supporting vulnerability and self-advocacy in exploring how you can engage all of your supports in ways that feel beneficial to you.
Vulnerability is hard. Yet for many of us, the power of being seen, heard, and understood makes engaging in vulnerability worthwhile. Your therapist, engaging you from a place of compassion and empathy, can better understand your needs when you speak of them. Your therapist can offer a neutral curiosity with ongoing optimism conveys the message that, together, you can find relief. Whether it be concrete tools for coping or holding space for your emotions, your therapist can create a safety net to address any fear, guilt, or shame you may be harboring in these moments of distress. Engaging in holiday travel, consider your therapy sessions a roadmap to relief! With direction and insight, you can address avoidance and attendance from an authentic, supportive place to best serve you during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
“You are as amazing as you let yourself be. Let me repeat that, you are as amazing as you let yourself be.” Elizabeth Alraune
Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.