The Holiday Blues (Therapist Edition)

You’ve opened your new private practice, and edited your December schedule to offer extra available hours. You know that the “holiday blues” will mean a crush of urgent appointments by existing clients, and probably a rush of new clients eager for any open slot. You’ve completed your holiday shopping early, knowing that you will be so busy in December that you won’t have time to shop. Braced for the rush, you listen for the phone to start ringing.

Crickets.

What's happening? You know that your clients will visit family members, and this will dredge up unresolved issues to work through. The changes in routine should cause additional stress for your clients. They have time off work, so they should be free to schedule appointments in December. Is this dearth of filled appointment slots a COVID-related fluke?

Nope. For most practitioners, December and August are their slowest months each year.

It is likely that the extra contact with family members during December holidays and August vacations will cause an uptick in stress for many clients. However, this is more than counterbalanced by several other factors:

  • They may be out of town
  • They may have houseguests who would be nosy about their appointments
  • They are busy with their own shopping and baking and decorating and gift-wrapping and guest-entertaining and party-attending
  • They are short on cash for copayments due to holiday spending
  • For some lucky clients who have warm relationships with family, the need for conversations with a therapist are supplanted by conversations with Mom

If not December, then, when can you expect an uptick in client appointments? For many therapists, those months are January and September. January may be more full because:

  • With houseguests gone and kids back in school, they now have time to address the stresses from December
  • They have new insurance from their company that (for the first time) has generous coverage for psychotherapy -- and you’re on their panel
  • In the spirit of “new year’s resolutions” they have decided to take action on their long-standing symptoms and issues

September may be a busy month for slightly different reasons:

  • The kids were underfoot during summer break, and clients wonder if their fantasies of trading them in for different kids means that they are horrible parents
  • For parents, September signals a “new year”, a time to address old issues (and with kid-free hours in the day, time for appointments away from home)

Believe it or not, this annual cycling of your activity levels is a good thing.

Take care of yourself! Your clients are taking time off…. why don’t you take time off, too? By arranging for your holidays in December and August, you are less likely to miss out on income than if you vacationed in other months. Lean into it! Go with the flow!

You may notice that your work level waxes and wanes at other less predictable times. Don’t panic! Respond to these changes in activity like a thermostat responds to changes in temperature.

When your schedule is vacuous, it is time to turn up the heat on your marketing efforts. Make arrangements to take some business cards and cookies to local physicians and ministers, and buff up your website. Call your established referral sources to “touch base” or send them a personalized email with a link to an interesting article on mental health.

When things are more busy, you can safely cool down your marketing efforts, safe in the knowledge that your pipeline of referrals is pleasantly full. 

Here's to the holidays and a happy New Year for you, your practice, and your families! Take good care.

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