How to Keep it Together When Your Therapist is on Vacation

Doctors with borders


People in therapy love to complain about how their therapist is on vacation. But the annual late-summer exodus of everybody’s personal confidant is a real thing. I don’t know how every therapist decided that we need them the least in August, of all the summer months, especially when June and July have longer days and better weather. But maybe August is when they all need a break the most. I like to think they all go to the same resort where nobody is allowed to ask what you do for a living.

Missing your therapist isn’t an immediate pang of feeling. The pernicious effect appears within a week of your first missed appointment. At first, the fact that everything in your life is going crazy will not be apparent — until you catch yourself ruminating on how weird you are with a painfully clenched jaw.

I can barely handle existence when my therapist is available to me, so a month of self-soothing is pretty daunting, but I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now. Here are some things I do when I have to be my own therapist.

Get into astrology

Like therapy, astrology is a safe space for self-obsession. That’s why people like it so much, but it can also be a great way to learn about yourself — as long as you don’t use it as a tool for self-delusion.

Most people already have a source for a daily horoscope and, since you’re reading this on the internet, I’m sure you know how to look up your natal chart, but there’s a lot of information there. Try digging a little deeper into your dominant houses, potential stelliums, or the hidden powers in your asteroids, but try not to mention any of this to your therapist when they get back.

Grab some self-help

Right now you need someone to pump you up. Much like astrology, self-help is a tool for realization, and probably contains a lot of stuff your therapist would say anyway about toxic parents, falling for narcissists, or your own emotional unavailability. Better yet, download an audiobook, kick back on a chaise with some headphones, and let the advice sink in like a real session.

Meditate. A lot.

One thing I love about meditation is that you can do it anywhere. Sometimes I will go to the park or beach with no other intention but to breathe. It's a good way to force myself to get out of the house when I can’t come up with another reason.

I listen to guided meditations that tell me my thoughts are not real and ones that tell me my thoughts are the entirety of existence. At the very least this is confusing enough to sometimes make me forget about my problems for a while and think about how nice things can be instead, or not think at all. One of my favorite guides is Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain, a new age classic that happened to inspire 1994’s hit “You Gotta Be,” by Des'ree. Perhaps after meditating you too will write a top 40 single.

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Get lost in someone else’s psychological trauma.

Get a massage

Treat the rest of your body to an interrogation, it’s actually less expensive than one session with most New York City therapists. Unlike your mental health professional, remember to tip your massage therapist at least 20 percent, in cash.

Go to the perfume store

The nose is a literal highway to the brain (that’s how cocaine works) and quality aromatherapy can do a lot to get you out of your own head, even if only for a brief period of time. Incense and essential oils are fine day-to-day, but when I’m really starting to lose my grip on reality I like to clear my mind with something unusual at Scent Bar, a perfume boutique in SoHo.

Smell things you wouldn’t usually go for, or something really freaky and animalic. I like to sniff first and then read the notes online so I don’t miss out on the drama. Here is an excerpt from the notes on Squid by Zoologist:

“A song of a dark, tumultuous sea of tangy brine, the stormy air electrified with pink pepper and the elemental glow of salicylate. Crisp, smoky incense evokes an ominous twilight, while a uniquely sweet, cloudy ink accord should leave no doubt why this unforgettable scent earned its name. Finally, all is united with the moody, compellingly oceanic aroma of ambergris. Like the endless depths that inspired it, this elegant scent ripples with the mysteries of the sea.”

I’m transported already.

Talk to a screenshot you took of your therapist during your last virtual session and have now made your screensaver

Ethically, my therapist isn’t allowed to read my work unless I give my permission so let’s keep this between us.