| Family Reflections |

Bad Therapy

Abigail Shrier makes some very good points



here’s a new fascinating book on the shelves: Bad Therapy, by Abigail Shrier. It’s a thought-provoking look at the effect of over-psychologizing society and in particular, children. Shrier isn’t a psychologist herself, but a reporter and best-selling author, a keen observer of what is happening to the current generation of children.

In her new book, she details, mocks, and shreds the philosophies underlying modern parenting. Her dripping sarcasm clearly conveys her disdain for what she considers not only wrongheaded but downright destructive parenting strategies advocated by today’s “experts.” Her belief is that therapists, parents, and teachers are destroying the young generation.

Shrier points out that in society at large, young adults are now notoriously childlike — terrified of making mistakes, taking risks, or even taking responsibility for themselves. They carry multiple mental health diagnoses, see therapists, take medication, prefer to hide out at home rather than move on to marriage and family life, and reject their parents in larger numbers than ever before.

For their part, parents of these young people worked exceptionally hard at raising their kids, reading dozens of parenting books, attending parenting classes, listening to parenting podcasts, following online parenting experts, and doing their very best to prevent any form of pain or suffering for their child. These parents have been careful to listen empathically, guide gently, abstain from retrograde strategies that involve threats and punishments, and in all ways cushion their youngsters from rejection, failure, and hardship. Shrier’s research shows that the outcome of all of this parenting diligence has been serious adult dysfunction.


Although Shrier’s work concentrates on findings mostly applicable to the world around us, it does have relevance for our own community as well. Those who adhere to Torah principles of childrearing will avoid many of the pitfalls that Shrier describes. However — and this may seem strange coming from a psychologist — her warnings about therapy, trauma, medication, diagnosis, and labeling serve as a cautionary tale to all parents and educators.

Indeed, in my work as a counseling psychologist I have come across numerous people whose stories validated those described by Shrier. For instance, adults have shared with me that being diagnosed and sent to a therapist in childhood left them feeling somehow broken. According to Bad Therapy, this is a predictable and likely outcome for children who receive psychotherapy. They see their problems as so severe that their own parents can’t solve them and have to turn to outside experts. This challenges the parental position as the seat of trusted authority and guidance.

Ironically, therapized children may also learn that being of unsound mind is actually a great excuse to receive all sorts of attention (from a one-on-one devoted therapeutic adult), perks (being excused from class and various difficult tasks), and privileges (experiencing a variety of accommodations).

Shrier acknowledges that there is a small number of truly unwell children who will need professional help. However, she states that psychology has now overstepped its bounds, grabbing everyday disappointments, hurts, fears, insults, stresses, and injustices into its clutches and using them to make a case for supposed traumatic injury in normal children. In this way, every unhappy, struggling child is seen to be suffering from some form of mental disorder rather than from life itself.

Moreover, the overemphasis on a child’s happiness and underemphasis on his resilience has led to an unnatural hypervigilance and anxiety on the part of adult caretakers. Any child who prefers not to socialize much or who has ants in his pants or who gets easily frustrated is now tagged as a candidate for professional assessment and treatment, a process that produces recognized iatrogenic risks.

Building Resilience

For instance, Shrier notes that excessive focus on one’s own thoughts and feelings — the stuff of individual therapy — has been shown to intensify both depression and anxiety, especially in children. She argues for a greater focus on functionality, purpose, and meaning, and increased tolerance for discomfort, risk, error, and recalibration. Humor, grit, and perseverance are traits to be encouraged, while taking oneself and one’s pains too seriously isn’t.

It’s up to parents and teachers (and therapists, too) to convey the message that life is tough, that it’s designed to be this way, and that human beings (including kids) are made to weather its storms. Supporting children in developing their natural resilience requires that adults stand way back to let growth happen. Benign looking away can often be more therapeutic than all the therapy in the world.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 888)

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