Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing up

by Abigail Shrier, Penguin Random House LLC, 2024

Abigail Shrier has written another blockbuster book on an equally troubling albeit different topic than her outstanding exposé of the destructive transgender cult in Irreversible Damage. Bad Therapy takes on the mental health domain and shows how therapists, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health “experts” are replacing parents and manipulating the minds and emotions of American children.

The author shows how schools jumped at the chance “to adopt a therapeutic approach to education and announced themselves ‘partners’ in childrearing.” Everything from misbehavior to bad grades became an opportunity to analyze the child and determine if he or she needed therapy or medication or both. The result, Shrier found, is that, with unprecedented help from mental health experts, “we have raised the loneliest, most anxious, depressed, pessimistic, helpless, and fearful generation on record.” Often, these young people have failed to grow up.

Shrier discusses the term iatrogenesis, which means that a doctor or mental health professional can actually harm a patient in the attempt to heal him. It is a Greek word that means “originating with the healer.” The author contends that this is particularly problematic in the realm of mental health interventions with children because “the power imbalance between child and therapist is too great.... They cannot correct the interpretations or recommendations of a therapist.”

Bad Therapy observes that today’s focus on feelings and emotions by parents, teachers, and mental health experts places an undue emphasis on kids’ sense of self; everything revolves around how a child “feels” about this or that topic or how they “feel” on any given day, which can lead to self-diagnosis. Teens especially see the absence of a diagnostic label as being “left out.” Shrier writes: “Nearly 10 percent of kids now have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and teens today so profoundly identify with these diagnoses, they display them in social media profiles, alongside a picture and family name.”

Shrier places a lot of the blame for middle and high school students’ emotional trauma on smartphones. “If you want to improve a kid’s mental health, locking up her smartphone might be a start. At a minimum, smartphones take a teen further from the world of in-person friends and activity likely to bolster her sense of well-being. They are undoubtedly responsible for exacerbating a variety of social contagions, from tic disorders to gender dysphoria.” But while Shrier expresses her incredulity that students are allowed to keep their phones in class all day, she concedes that these devices are not the only problem.

The book carefully outlines the many ways adults meddle in the mental health of children, from the hysteria over “climate change” to social and emotional learning, to helping kids try a different gender without their parents’ knowledge. “Most American kids today are not in therapy,” she writes. “But the vast majority are in school, where therapists and non-therapists diagnose kids liberally.” Many of them end up on psychotropic drugs of one kind or another, and some take multiple drugs.

In researching Bad Therapy, the author interviewed hundreds of child psychologists, parents, teachers, and students. She also weaves into the narrative her personal life experiences from childhood through adulthood, including stories about raising her own children. These windows into her life provide the lighter moments in this otherwise sobering book.

Especially engaging is the dilemma she describes when her father-in-law, who grew up on a California cattle ranch, wanted to include her sons in what she calls “a hair raising tradition with the grandkids.” He takes each one at age 11 or 12 to a remote area and teaches them to drive in his old pickup truck. Readers who want the whole story need to obtain a copy of this amazing book.

Shrier also describes the horrendous effects of “restorative justice,” the concept that became popular during the Obama administration that discourages punishment of violent or disruptive kids. Restorative justice “is the official name for schools’ therapeutic approach that reimagines all bad behavior as a cry for help. Its central practice is the restorative circle, a ritual of obscure Native American origin in which a teacher directs students in conflict to sit in a circle of their peers and take turns sharing their pain.” Often, this quasi-therapy is kept secret from parents.

But the bizarre practice does not curb the violence. Several teachers told Shrier that “thanks to restorative justice, public schools no longer hold back or expel kids in any but the most extreme circumstances.” Instead, violent kids are kept in school and given “shadows,” adults who discreetly monitor them unbeknownst to other students. Shrier gives as a frightening example the fact that the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was just such a student who had committed “violent and menacing acts for years.” He was assigned a shadow — his mom — and later took 17 lives.

“Restorative justice destroys and ruins schools,” a Wisconsin teacher told Shrier, and she concedes that it causes “therapeutic anarchy” among students. It also sells kids short, as do many of the “accommodations” currently given to schoolchildren because it convinces them that they are damaged and can never overcome their “disabilities.”

While there is so much more this reviewer could highlight about the many ways children are being harmed by psychological interventions, one final topic must be mentioned: the data mining mischief being done by mental health surveys. As Shrier describes, these federally mandated surveys “are presented to public school children with all the seriousness of a standardized test. They pry into the most private details of teenage experimentation and family life.”

The author marvels that these government-mandated surveys contain questions that violate federal law, from the explicit sexual questions asked of middle school students to questions about guns, drugs and alcohol use, family income, political leanings, and more. Some of these surveys conclude with the admission that they may “have induced sufficient distress that a student will want to talk to a school counselor or social worker, or some other trusted adult,” and provide a crisis hotline number for the student to call.

Shrier offers no pat answers to the overwhelming mental health crisis she so thoroughly describes in Bad Therapy. And she concedes that some deeply troubled children do indeed need therapy. Her best advice is that parents should take control of their children’s lives.

“Claims from experts that they know — or more laughably, that they care — what’s best for our kids with anything comparable to the degree that we do ought to be met with derision, contempt, the creeps,” she writes. “The experts are out there, mining young patients faster than anyone could possibly cure them. Most of them ought to be fired on the spot.

“You don’t need them. You never needed them. And your kids are almost certainly better off without them.”

To read the entire book, go to OR Barnes & Noble to order!

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