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  • Jotham Busfield, LICSW

Is Summer the Best Time for a Student to Start Therapy?




As summer begins, one question we often hear parents ponder is “For the summer, is it better to start therapy now or wait until the fall?”


It is an understandable question.  The school year is long, and after dealing with all the stress of academic pressure for 10 months, students often need and deserve the months of July and August to unwind, rest, and relax.


So what is the best approach? While no two situations are alike, summer often brings reduced  stress, increased calm, vacation and a chance to reflect; All elements of the ideal situation for starting therapy, because it’s easier to work on challenges and goals when stress is at its LOWEST, not highest.


The myth of “When things are going well, I shouldn’t rock the boat”


There are many situations in life when we slip into the trap of not wanting to evaluate or work on ourselves because things are going well and we don’t want to disrupt progress. Some of those situations really do call for leaving things as is.  Having a great job or loving the college you’re at are examples of this.  


If you are at a college that is a great fit and you’re loving the overall experience, that is something to enjoy and feel incredibly grateful for.  Similarly, if you have a career and the company/position you are in is a great fit and you feel challenged/rewarded/appreciated in all the right ways, it makes sense to lean into that and stay in a situation that fits your needs and goals.


There are other situations, however, that trick us into an avoidance of evaluation, communication, and taking action to improve things. 


One situation along these lines is when couples have gone through some challenging times with periods of struggle, but happen to be in the midst of a good stretch. One or both people may not want to have difficult conversations during this time because difficult conversations carry risk and often lead to “one step back to take three forward.”  The anticipation of taking one step back induces fear, which leads to avoidance.  In reality, it is often necessary to keep at it, work on things, and communicate effectively about what the goals are and what could still improve during the good period. That is actually the BEST time to discuss difficult topics, because during times when things are going well, both people are happier, more calm, less stressed, and more capable of listening, collaboration, and compromise. Those that avoid this will no doubt regret it, because when life happens and the good period shifts, not having continued the hard work during the good period will make what comes next much, much harder.


Another example of this is the summer period for students who need mental health or coaching support.  It is natural to want a break after 10 months of school and want to wait until the fall to re-visit starting therapy. So why can this be a mistake?


Reasons that summer is the ideal time to start therapy:


Availability increases


It’s no secret that finding a good therapist with availability is a massive challenge.  The search process is stressful and frustrating for clients/parents.  Many therapists who are full do not reply to new clients, unfortunately (Riser+Tread always gets back to new clients, regardless of the length of our waitlist, and we have worked hard to hire the right people so that the wait time is never longer than eight weeks). Many therapists do not focus on working with youth/male clients (Riser+Tread exclusively focuses on working with youth/male clients ages 6-25). Waitlists tend to be very long, and most therapists have never switched back to in-person sessions (Riser+Tread keeps our waitlist below eight weeks and we always default to conducting sessions in-person, unless the client needs/requests otherwise).


Summer is a time when a lot of existing clients are taking vacations, going to camps, and sometimes even taking a break from therapy all together (see the aforementioned myth of “When things are going well, I shouldn’t rock the boat” above).  Pockets of availability open up and it makes for a MUCH easier time to get started with a good clinician/coach on a day/time that is more convenient, now and moving forward.


Less stress from school/work


As we discussed above, working on hard things is FAR easier when stress levels are lower.  When stress levels are high, mental health issues are often exacerbated as a result, which means starting therapy is more likely to feel like embarking on a climb up a very tall mountain.  Therapy is also not easy.  It brings relief and progress, but it can also be emotionally taxing as well, particularly in the beginning, as the process involves delving into and processing difficult emotions and complicated psychological concepts.  A client is also meeting a new person in their clinician, and it can take some time to build trust/rapport/connection, and generate positive momentum.  Therapy can be the type of situation where it feels like you are taking one step back to take three (or often more) steps forward. Starting this process when you are in the midst of a high stress period is often necessary and certainly worth it, but if you can start when the dust has settled a bit (summer time, after school has ended), that really sets the ideal stage for progress to be made.  This can also set a person up for success come the fall, as part of their goals for therapy during the summer could be to prepare effectively so that the upcoming school year starts off on the best foot, which will lead to a year that is far more productive and less stressful.


Better weather lifts mood and allows for more activity and creativity in sessions


Living in New England is not for the faint of heart.  The winters are tough and seem to last from November to May these days.  Shorter days, less sunlight, and cold, inclement weather add yet another layer to the mental health challenge of going through a stressful school year.  The summer brings warmer weather and longer days, which for many can be a mood boost.  This can help make the “climb” of therapy shorter. It also enables more sessions to possibly involve being outdoors, like walking sessions, a particularly helpful approach to weave in for young clients who feel more comfortable walking and talking than sitting in an office for therapy.


Sessions are bookended with balance in between


Starting therapy during the summer means there is more balance to a person’s overall schedule. There is no school stress, sports are often going on but with far less demanding volume, and there are camps and vacations mixed in. This overall balance with reduced stress makes taking on the start of therapy far more manageable, in terms of schedule and transportation.


Summer is now and there is no time like the present


The saying “there is no time like the present” is a cliche for sure, but definitely a cliche for a reason….it’s true. If a person needs support, waiting to get that help is not the answer.  The sooner they get connected to a great clinician/coach, the better, as they maximize the chances for getting relief and making real progress on mental health challenges and personal goals.


As mentioned earlier, no two people or their situations/circumstances are alike, and there may always be a legitimate reason to not start therapy over the summer.  However, there are many reasons which are often overlooked that all point to summer being the best time to start working with a great clinician/coach. If a person needs support and can find it during the summer, chances are it will be a decision they look back on with the confidence that they made the right call.


If you read this and think Riser+Tread can help, visit our website at https://www.riserandtread.com/ and complete the form at the bottom to schedule a (totally free) 15-minute phone consult.


We also wrote a separate article that provides clients/parents with a playbook they can use to maximize insurance reimbursement for out of network mental health services: https://www.riserandtread.com/post/navigating-the-insurance-landscape

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