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Poster Presentation - Vacation Is All I Ever Wanted: Exploring and Understanding Separation and Reunions in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

Friday, February 19, 2016: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM
Magnolia Ballroom - Exhibit Hall (Omni Amelia Island Plantation)

Background: We all need a vacation and when we leave our clients for an extended period of time exploring the meaning of the separation and reunion is an imperative and unique process. Through case examples, this presentation will demonstrate the clinical significance and need for clinicians and clients to have vacations.

1. Attachment Style Dynamics.

a. Develop an understanding of how attachment dynamics underscore the emotional regulation capabilities of eating disorder patients and the unconscious reactions at the outset of a therapist vacation.

b. Identify the potential exasperation of psychological conflicts that underscore the treatment process for patients with eating disorders when a therapist is on vacation.

c. Explore the clinician’s unique attachment style with eating disorder patients and how one’s own attachment process affects the treatment upon return from a vacation.

d. Utilize case example Alissa to highlight the attachment and emotional regulatory aspects during a vacation. 

2. Managing the “Therapist is Going on Vacation” discussion. 

a. Explore how the meaning and experience of this discussion with eating disorder patients will differ for each  relationship.

b. Incorporate attachment theory and emotional regulation in the management of this discussion.

c. Create an opportunity for several conversations regarding vacation to allow for important unconscious material to come to the patient’s mind.

d. Utilize case example Marissa to highlight the significance of the “Therapist is Going on Vacation” discussion and the relevance of unconscious motivations and urges in therapy relationship.

3. Identifying the clinician's concerns and resistances in taking a vacation.

a. Help each participant gain insight and sensitivity about their own concerns and wishes regarding their own vacation.

b. Provide a forum for each participant to explore their own resistance to taking a vacation and develop insight about their own feelings.

c. Integrate the participants thoughts, feelings and wishes regarding a vacation with the attachment styles formed with their clients.

d. Utilize case example Brittany to highlight the relationship between therapist experiences and patient experiences during and after a vacation from therapy.

4. Bridging the Vacation into Therapy.

a. Understand the connection between attachment styles of both therapist and client and the loss that is experienced during a vacation.

b. Discuss the importance of the return to therapy and the numerous unconscious and conscious reactions of both patient and therapist.

c. Address the significant impact of a vacation on therapy and how this understanding can deepen and strengthen the therapy process. 

d. Utilize case example Andrea to highlight the insights and growth that occurred following the incorporation of her therapist’s vacation.


Vacations in therapy relationships are more significant than meets the eye. Upon separating from one’s practice, our clinical concern surrounds leaving our patients. However, the reunion often is when therapy can be enhanced or destroyed or somewhere in between. This presentation will explore how vacations mirror and can bring to the surface memories and unconscious experiences for eating disorder patients based on early attachment styles and how attachment history is projected onto the therapy relationship during a vacation and when therapist and patient reunite. 

When we decide to leave on a vacation, we take a lot into consideration, including how and when we begin to tell our patients that we will be leaving them. The meaning and experience of this discussion is of great therapeutic value. This presentation will explore different clinical aspects and ideas of managing this discussion, paying close attention to the emotional regulatory concerns for eating disorder patients. It is during this discussion that clinician and patient have the potential for unconscious motivations to surface. This presentation will allow for a deeper understanding of how to use unconscious material effectively with eating disorder patients prior to and upon return from a vacation.

Even though a vacation may be all we ever want, we also resist taking the time to care for ourselves and offer an opportunity for our clients to “live” without us. Exploring our own resistances, concerns, wishes and desires for vacations will mirror for our clients the importance of separation and reunions. This presentation will offer each participant to explore their feelings and develop deeper insight as to how their attachment styles and resistances impact the therapy relationship in regards to a vacation.

Returning after a vacation can bring up a lot of feeling for both therapist and clients. Being aware of one’s own experiences and open to client reactions and thoughts is valuable and imperative for therapy. This presentation will explain the bridge between vacation into therapy and attachment history in order to deepen and strengthen the therapy process. Case examples will be utilized throughout to bring to life these ideas.


Primary Presenter:
Angela Wurtzel, MA, MFT, CEDS

Angela R. Wurtzel provides individual, couple and family therapy for the treatment of eating disorders, self injury and compulsive shopping. She leads From a Pea to a Pumpkin: A Prenatal Psychotherapy Group. Angela helps people contain behaviors that have gone awry and are interfering with one’s capacity for a full life. Her approach involves treating the psychological hunger disease through the process of putting one’s experiences related to emotional development and interpersonal relationships into words. She has a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist.

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