Dr. Steiner's Psychotherapy Tools

Article: Planning for the Unexpected:
Why Every Therapist Needs a Professional Will

NOTE TO CLIENTS AND MEDIA: If you have lost your therapist and are looking for help, please read the page called notes to client and media. This section is not designed to address the needs of clients.

If not now, when?

It's never too early to plan for the unexpected. We all get sick, have family emergencies, and eventually will no longer be able to, or wish to, continue in practice. The ethics, and clinical importance of planning for, and techniques for skillfully handling our expected and unexpected absences have been neglected. For example, most clinicians aren't aware that their Ethics Codes require that they have a plan for the disposition of their practice in the event of their absence.

Did you know?

That the ethics codes of most mental health organizations require therapists to provide for the disposition of their practice? This page provides more details about the ethics requirements for your particular mental health guild.

What is the Therapist's Professional Will™?

The actual Therapist's Professional Will™ is a document detailing your wishes for the continued care of your clients in your absence, whether planned or unplanned.  It can reduce the disruption and trauma to your clients, colleagues and yourself when you are unavailable. Now, while you are in good health, is the best time to think through how you want your practice handled during temporary, expected and unexpected absences.

For example:

  • What would happen to your practice if you had to take a sudden or unexpected leave of absence, became seriously ill or died?
  • Who has access to your office keys, client contact information and other details needed in an emergency, such as your voice mail access code and appointment schedule?
  • Who would cancel your clients in your absence?
  • How do you want your clients and their records handled in your absence?

While the concept of a writing a Professional Will™ resonates with most helping professionals, the prospect of putting one in place can seem daunting. By writing the Will, you will assure continuity of care for your clients, and given yourself peace of mind.

Being Proactive about Unplanned Absences

The process of creating your own Therapist's Professional Will™ builds community and eases the stress and burden on our family members, colleagues and others during a difficult time. Putting together your own Professional Will removes the guess work, confusion and headaches that often accompanies an unexpected event in our lives.

The first step is to put together your own "Emergency Response Team," a group of trusted colleagues who will follow your wishes and help you and your clients cope with your absence if you have to be out of the office unexpectedly. Most of us have someone who covers for us when we go on vacation, so you may already have a group of colleagues who can form the core, be on each other's "Emergency Response Team" and agree to meet regularly to cheer each other on in the process.

How 'bout starting now? Take 10 minutes to list 3 colleagues you would be comfortable discussing these ideas with and commit to meeting to discuss how you can get started.  This will move you one big step closer to creating one of the best gifts you can give your clients, loved ones and yourself.  Completing your own Professional Will can be a challenging, yet do-able, rewarding and important process.



Dr. Steiner's Downloadable Business Continuity Guidelines for Small Businesses and SoloPreneurs!

Check back in 2018 to learn more about how Dr. Steiner is bringing her 20 years of expertise helping therapists prepare back-up plans to other medical professionals, attorneys, and small business owners.


Ann Steiner, Ph.D., M.F.T., Certified Group Psychotherapist, is in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, lectures at professional meetings locally and internationally, writes for consumers and therapists and provides consultation to therapists. Dr. Steiner served as an Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California Medical School, S.F. for 14 years, is on the faculty of The Psychotherapy Institute, is a Fellow and Board Member of the American Group Psychotherapy Association, was a founding member of the National Registry of Group Psychotherapists, and was president of the Northern California Group Psychotherapy Society.

She has published over 20 articles on the topic of preparing for illness, death, relocation and retirement. Her work has been cited in the Wall Street Journal published in The New Therapist, a South African journal distributed also in New Zealand and Australia and other publications. She has given workshops and trainings throughout the US, and in Costa Rica for the International Human Learning Resources Network, is a frequent presenter for the American Group Psychotherapy Association and other mental health organizations. Her popular "Therapist's Professional Will: The Complete Guide" demystifies and simplifies this all-too often delayed practice necessity is now downloadable.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational purposes for licensed mental health providers, and is not a substitute for professional medical or psychological care. If you require urgent medical or psychological services please consult a qualified professional in your area, or call 911.

Your Privacy is Important: An increasing number of therapists discourage sending confidential information over the Internet since privacy cannot be guaranteed. To discuss Dr. Steiner's local psychotherapy services for adults, and consultation services, feel free to call her at (925) 962-0060 or email her, indicating times when it would be best for her to contact you.

This article is based on sections of her Therapist's Professional Will: Managing Planned and Unplanned Absence.

Please do not use this material without the author's written consent.

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Last Updated: November 16, 2017