The Empty Chair: Making Our Absence Less Traumatic for Everyone

The Empty Chair: Making Our Absence Less Traumatic for Everyone

by Ann Steiner

What happens when a therapist becomes ill or dies? Dr. Steiner provides a valuable blueprint for therapists to prepare for unexpected absence and termination.
Have you ever considered what might happen to your practice, your clients, and files when you retire or if you suddenly became ill, or died? Do you have a plan? This article will help you formulate the plan you need. Of course, we all think such a plan is a good idea, but few therapists have thought through what would happen, let alone developed a simple, doable plan of action. This article introduces a nuts-and-bolts toolkit that you can print out and complete on your own computer. It includes step-by-step guidelines for designing your own system to help you and your clients in the event of planned and unplanned absences from practice. The first section provides an overview of the advantages of writing out how you want your clients handled if you have to be out of the office. The second section helps you decide who you want to have cancel your appointments and deal with clients if you are unable to. Recommendations and experiences of other therapists will help you create your own plan. Lastly, the Blueprint for Therapeutic Continuity, sample letters, and forms that you can copy and print are provided for your personal use.
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Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved.
Ann SteinerAnn Steiner, PhD, MFT, CGP, is an Associate Clinical Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, University of California Medical School, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the American Group Psychotherapy Society. She was also a founding member of the National Registry of Group Psychotherapists and American Orthopsychiatric Association's Disability Study Group, as well as President of Northern California Group Psychotherapy Society.

Dr. Steiner is a member of the National Speakers Association. She is a keynote speaker and presenter for professional and consumer organizations nationally and locally, and writes for consumers and therapists. She offers a wide range of workshops, including hands-on workshops about the Blueprint for Therapeutic Continuity. She has been leading psychotherapy groups for 24 years, supervises, trains and consults to therapists in Northern California. Her Medical Information Sheet, an easy to use medical record that anyone taking medication should carry with them at all times is available, free to the public at She is currently writing a self help book about dealing with chronic medical illness. She may be contacted via email at
Excellent article that unfortunately, too many therapists have not read or acted on. I'm writing this from the point of view of a client whose therapist was suddenly stricken ill. Having gotten a letter written by her in advance of such an event would have helped. Many of these suggestions would have helped.
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