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May 28, 2024

‘Bad Therapy’: A Review

Abigail Shrier’s latest book explores what is wrong with our kids and what we can do to help.

Abigail Shrier, investigative reporter and author, first rose to national attention for her first book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which was her investigative deep dive into the transgender craze affecting our girls. Her second book, Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up, delivers analysis that hits just as hard and is a tremendous read. Shrier’s incisive wit and writing acumen draw the reader in. It’s a book every parent should read.

Iatrogenesis — or when medical help, in fact, causes harm— is the framework on which Shrier sets her thesis. That thesis is: Our kids aren’t growing up because they have been convinced they aren’t capable. And that is the result of bad therapy. Many of today’s parents have been convinced that having a diagnosis for their children’s unwanted behaviors is how those behaviors eventually get solved, or at least provides an out. The child, on the other hand, when given a label and diagnosis, believes that he or she is sick and, by extension, incapable of change. Labels have power, and therapists are more than happy to dole them out.

Kids today are categorized by their limitations and victimhood status that comes with a mental health diagnosis instead of by their merit or achievements. This, in turn, makes kids seek a more severe diagnosis and sinks them ever further into the morass of rumination and self-fulfilling prophesy of the labels they take on.

Trauma has also become a far too overused and abused term in our everyday language. Trauma is far too often used as a crutch for kids to get out of hard things. Therapists are also quick to turn to trauma as a ready explanation for why a kid is displaying mental illness. As Shrier points out, kids are resilient, and if therapists and parents stopped encouraging them to navel-gaze at their own feelings (which are transient), they are more likely to overcome difficult circumstances. She has several examples that illustrate this point much more elegantly than this author can articulate.

Therapy language has even infiltrated schools. Wannabe therapist teachers are quick to issue a diagnosis based on classroom behaviors. They promote a social and emotional learning curriculum that also leads kids down the feelings quest rabbit hole, encouraging a self-“reflection” that often lingers on anything negative that happened to a child. It weaponizes experiences and uses them as “teachable moments” for the rest of the class, all with the goal of teaching them empathy. It does the opposite. It creates mercenary monsters who will keep any amount of blackmail they can on their “friends” and peers in case they need to use it later.

Many parents also allow their children to be too involved with screens. Personal screens like the iPad or a smartphone are a twofold evil. First, the very addictive nature of what’s on the screen lures kids away from actually living and being kids. They are all too happy to allow the sedative screen time to waste hours of their time. Second, screens distract kids from making meaningful social connections and mastering poor behaviors. Screens also harm their attention span, motor skills, and so much more. The infuriating aspect is that many parents continue to let their kids marinate in digital prisons that are doing them no good.

Then there’s what’s on the screens. Social media influencers, peers, and tele-therapists are all conspiring to help your vulnerable child self-diagnose. These bad influences turn any normal behavior or interaction into a label that the child takes on as an identity.

Finally, and most insidiously, bad therapy has usurped parental authority and power. Mothers and fathers are encouraged to “gentle parent” by childless academics who treat children like equals — i.e., their every feeling or whim should be worthy of consideration and deliberation. This actually has the effect of making children more unsure. Depriving a child of authoritative (not authoritarian) parents — ones who are in charge but still show them love — makes the child an ill-behaved tyrant.

Parents in our society also have the added disadvantage of living in a culture that blames them for any wrongdoing of their children. When a child misbehaved in public in the olden days, adults usually gave the child disapproving looks, and by the sheer weight of public disapproval, that child learned what was acceptable or not acceptable in public. Parents today are so scared of being the reason their child is messed up that they are quick to relinquish their authority to hack therapists.

Parents have been fed therapeutic language to parrot to their children, focusing on feelings. Then there’s the issue of parents sending their children to therapists at the drop of a hat. This sends the message to the child that his or her parents are incapable of fixing the tremendous mess that is their child. Frankly, for all but the most severe of mental health issues, parents can, by being in a relationship with their children, help them work through whatever feeling is troubling them. If parents are intentional, they will see a marked improvement in their child’s well-being.

Bad therapy has created a generation of kids who feel too broken, too risk-averse, and too self-focused. They aren’t growing up, aren’t forming real meaningful relationships, and aren’t ready for the unpredictability of life’s twists and turns. This needs to change.

Shrier’s book was empowering to read as a parent because she gives parents the tools to take back their authority from the “experts.” At the same time, it is also convicting. The very language that we use to talk to our children, the way that schools are a deep and abiding part of the iatrogenesis problem, and our desperate fear of failing as parents are very real issues. Bad Therapy will open your eyes to what has been taken from our kids and hopefully will encourage us all to let them be kids again — and in letting them be kids, help them be brave enough to become adults.

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