I recently spoke with Arianna Taboada, a maternity leave consultant for women entrepreneurs. Today, I am bringing you her best tips for how to prepare for maternity leave as a therapist who is self-employed or in private practice.
This topic is near and dear to my heart, because I became a mom while I had a full and busy private practice. At the time, I didn't know people like Arianna. Thankfully, she is available to help you sort through how to gently move out of and back into work. Of course, every pregnancy, mom, and baby are different; for this reason, the information in this post is meant to provide guidelines for you to create a leave plan that suits you best.
1 | Gearing up for maternity leave
In preparation for maternity leave, determine when you want to begin telling existing clients that you are pregnant, as well as when you will begin telling new clients during an initial phone call. I (Ili) began telling new clients during intake phone calls (once they expressed their desire to schedule an appointment) when I was approximately four months pregnant. I took into consideration that I did relatively long-term work with couples, and I did not want new couples to feel abandoned in the middle of a relational crisis. Depending on your target clientele, as well as the types of problems they bring to therapy, this may be different for you.
2 | What are the things that you might need postpartum?
Start at the highest level of thinking through and imagining what you might need. This usually includes people in your life who can help support you, as well as timeframes. Thirty-seven weeks is considered full-term, and anything could happen as of then, so be prepared with your plan to step away from your work by that point. You might not go into labor until later, but it's important to consider that there is a fairly large time frame when you can go into labor--anywhere from thirty-seven to forty-two weeks. So, take the time to really "drill down" and think:
- How many weeks before you give birth might you need to start stepping away?
- What amount of time would you want your private practice either running on its own--to some extent, or shut down? By running on its own I don't mean that clients are being seen in the way that they would be seen when you're there, but rather, thinking through:
- What boundaries do you want to set? For example, are you going to be available via phone, live video, or email, and so forth?
There will be a period of time that you'll need to step away from doing therapy, but that period of time is an individual decision and can be influenced by a variety of factors.
3 | Finances and Recovery
Most likely, your plan for maternity leave will involve some financial decision-making. Take a look at your budget well before your leave--ideally, within your first trimester--and determine how much you can set aside into a maternity leave fund.
Also, consider how much time you will need to fully recover from giving birth. If this is your first baby, you may not know. Do some research by asking other moms, as well as other mom therapists who are self-employed.
Consider your mental health, in terms of your need for rest, as well as your need for time with and away from your child. These needs vary from woman to woman; therefore, it's important to allow for the experience after birth to unfold without too many restrictions placed on your time off. A timeline for returning to work is helpful, but, flexibility with your timeline can mean the difference between a full recovery and ongoing fatigue.
Things that you will not know before giving birth, include: the type of labor you will have, and it's physical effects; your child's temperament; how much you'll be able to sleep; as well as your emotional response to these experiences. In order to make room for these uncertainties, set up ways to stay flexible with your timeframes and allot more time than you think you'll need. You can always return to work earlier than planned..
4 | Communicating with Therapy Clients
When communicating your leave plan with clients, as well as your timeframe for returning to work, stay general with your deadlines. Precise dates may not be the best for you or your family. However, pair this flexibility with specific communication to clients about how their needs will be met during your absence.
This is a sample script that you can tailor for your needs:
"I am taking X week off. This date is the first date that I will be opening my calendar for scheduling. During my leave:
- my availability for email/phone sessions will be X,
- I will have not be working, and I am recommending the following therapists until I return to work.
Should you have an emergency, please contact X.
Communicate this information to clients well in advance of your leave, and provide it in written form, for their future reference.
5 | The Gradual Return to Client Sessions
If you have a full client caseload, you may not be ready to resume with all clients after your designated maternity leave. Think strategically about the easiest clients to add back into your schedule right way, and slowly add the rest of your clients over a month, or longer. This gives you the flexibility of moving slowly back into work, rather than going from full-time maternity leave to full-time private practice.
6| Tip: Use an email list!
If you don't already have your clients' email addresses organized into a client email list, begin developing one. This will save you time, ensure your clients' anonymity, and make ongoing updates much easier!
Highlights and Summary
As you prepare for maternity leave and head back to work, it's better to be safe than sorry. Create some extra room in your leave, that you may not need, because you can always go back to work early. Also, prepare yourself mentally for your experience to differ from what you envisioned, so that you stay flexible through your pregnancy and your maternity leave.
Begin with asking yourself:
- What might I need in terms of support in my life?
- What might I need in terms of timeline?
Arianna was a recent guest expert in The Refreshed Therapist Network.
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Let me know in the comments below:
- What question do you have about preparing well for your maternity leave?