How To Transition From an Emotional Therapy Session Back to Work (or Whatever the Rest of Your Day Holds)

Photo: Getty Images/Kemal Yildirim
For most people, going to the DMV or a dentist appointment probably isn’t the most pleasant part of their week. But it’s easy enough to explain needing time off from work to renew your license or get your teeth cleaned. Now imagine trying to schedule a therapy session and the only available appointment happens to be when you’re on the clock. The transition from therapy to work can be a rough one depending on the emotional intensity of your session, so having a few tools to help you navigate the switch over is becoming increasingly beneficial, especially as therapy is more accessible than ever—and not just outside of your 9 to 5.

Experts In This Article

With the continued growth of teletherapy—available through mobile apps, phone calls, and videoconferencing—along with increased numbers of people seeking support, you may find yourself having to switch gears from therapy to real life and vice versa. In fact, CDC data show that the percentage of adults aged 18–44 seeking mental health treatment increased between 2019 and 2021 (from 18.5 percent to 23.2 percent). Women in this age category were more likely than men to obtain treatment in the form of medication or counseling.

Whether you attend therapy in person or virtually, you may feel like you’re spreading yourself thin when therapy and work, unavoidably collide. If you’re a parent or caregiver, the workday may offer the only block of uninterrupted time for you to focus on your needs. Fortunately, there are things you can do to get the most out of your therapy session while still tending to your to-do list.

Resuming work after a therapy session

It’s common to experience a range of emotions following a therapy session. Sometimes you’ll feel relieved, perhaps after gaining some insight into a problem or learning new strategies to reduce stress. Other times you may feel emotionally drained, or have a therapy hangover, so it can be helpful to develop practices to ease the transition between therapy and your work commitments.

“Having a tangible or physical change can help your brain make space between the session and work,” says Daryl Appleton, EdD, MEd, psychotherapist, and Fortune 500 executive coach. For example, you can stretch or move around, listen to a song, splash cold water on your face, grab a snack or cup of tea, change your clothes, or go into a different room. The idea is to find something calming and rejuvenating that can provide a reset.

If you can, try to avoid scheduling anything for one to two hours after your appointment. “Allow post-session time to be one of reflection and transition,” Dr. Appleton says. She suggests keeping a list of reflections or concerns that you can then unpack in therapy.

Even if you’re short on time, “setting aside 60 seconds for a mindful minute can offer a supportive buffer,” says Michelle Felder, LCSW, MA, founder and CEO of Parenting Pathfinders. “Refilling your emotional cup before taking on tasks from work is a great way to take care of yourself.” She also suggests working with your therapist to create a plan that includes coping skills to manage this transition.

Preparing yourself emotionally for therapy

Depending on your goals for therapy, there are benefits and drawbacks to scheduling an appointment during your workday. For example, if your goal is to “address situations and dynamics related to work, it can be helpful to have a break to process your work life so you can reenter your workplace in a better frame of mind,” Felder says. Conversely, if you’re working through grief or trauma, it’s probably wise to avoid therapy on a day that requires you to focus your emotional energy on work.

Ultimately it may come down to a matter of time and personal preferences. To the extent possible, avoid booking an appointment during the middle of your day or a busy week, Dr. Appleton says. She suggests doing therapy first thing in the morning with transition time or, if needed, at the end of the day when you have a lighter workload.

If your appointment is later in the day, you may be feeling anxious about what you’re going to discuss. “Having a pre-session ritual to collect your thoughts can be immensely helpful,” Dr. Appleton says. She encourages her clients to keep a running list of topics and to go through them and identify the top three before they meet.

Another pre-session ritual is using mindfulness to engage your senses so that you feel calm and grounded. As Felder explains, you can spend a few minutes sitting still and focusing on your breath, journaling your thoughts and feelings, doing a body scan of the sensations you’re experiencing, or taking a walk and noticing what you see, hear, and smell.

Deciding what to share with your employer or coworkers

What you share with your boss or coworkers will depend on your relationship, workplace culture, and environment (i.e., working remotely, the physical layout of the office). “If you feel comfortable, talking about therapy can be a great way to connect with those around you professionally and personally,” Dr. Appleton says. While no one should pressure you to talk about therapy, sharing your experience “can help normalize caring for your mental health and perhaps inspire others to prioritize their own,” Felder says.

When blocking off time for therapy, you can mark it in your calendar as a doctor’s appointment or private appointment. If your appointment is during your lunch break or you’ve received approval for the time off, “you are under no obligation to disclose what you’re spending your time doing,” Felder says. Ideally, your colleagues will respect your privacy and refrain from asking questions.

If they do inquire about your private appointment, Felder suggests saying, “I have something private to take care of at that time” or “I have an appointment, but it’s not interfering with any of my responsibilities at work.” If available, speaking to human resources is an option if their questions persist, Dr. Appleton adds.

Following therapy, if you find yourself unable to focus or be fully present in your personal or professional life, “it can be helpful to share this with a close friend or family member,” Felder says. Both she and Dr. Appleton recommend discussing any challenges you’re having with your therapist to explore ways to navigate this transition and alleviate your distress.

Unless you expect your colleagues to be understanding and supportive, it’s probably wise to avoid putting yourself into a vulnerable position, especially at a time when you’re experiencing heavy emotions, Felder says. Her advice is to develop a consistent routine for how you begin and end therapy to better support your mental health.

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