How Do You Feel About the book “Bad Therapy?”

Here’s a Feeling: Anger

I was curious about the book Bad Therapy : Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up – after learning that the author Abigail Shrier was giving a presentation to the group called Moms For Liberty. These moms (and also, Dads) sprang up around the United States in response to parents angered that their children were not allowed to attend school during the Covid 19 pandemic. Then, they were angry about mask requirements and of course, they were also angry about lifesaving vaccine requirement. These are people who get angry when they do not get their way….

According to Shrier, these Moms, had simply had it! First big brother started closing schools, when every educator knows how important in-person socialization is in preventing mental illness in the first place! Moms were already mad that schools were spending academic time in every class with a social-emotional Learning (SEL) check-in, sharing trauma time and incorporating LGBTQ indoctrination into every lesson- even math!

Meanwhile, Bad Therapy does not once mention the high rate of depression and suicide in the LGBTQ demographic, especially amongst young people, the epidemic of school mass murders that result in school shooter drills and the daily stress of Black students at real risk of racial discrimination and higher rates of school suspension.

The Sisterhood we join…

I would assume that when women join Moms for Liberty– they are fulfilling a social need for a sisterhood of like minded conservatives, especially following the pandemic related isolation. That’s not a bad thing- and…I understand the need to join a tribe! I felt that way in 2020 when my small, rural/suburban town north of Boston created a human rights coalition and I joined the new NAACP chapter inspired by the George Floyd murder.

I liked these tribes until I realized that disagreement was not tolerated. I quit my membership because I’m against mind control that comes in every size, shape, identification, pronoun and color…. I also got called a TERF (Transphobic Extreme Radical Feminist) because I did not attend my town’s first Pride event held during the height of the pandemic. By the way, I am a stressed out 70 years old, retired occupational therapist, mother of a mentally ill son on the autism spectrum…. and my sensory system rejects crowds.

Joining a Tribe

I have always considered myself a liberal minded, social justice activist, raised in the 1960s, New York City intellectual movement of secular humanism, feminism and Black power. My parents tried hard to instill their conservative, religious values – as is their right, but I became an atheist and human rights activist and discovered that as an occupational therapist- helping marginalized developmentally disabled people filled a social-emotional need.

However, my values do not fit neatly into a tribal bucket. I am pro social justice, but I am also against politics, religion and indoctrination forced on students in public schools.

Here is what I consider extremism in today’s public school:

  1. Spending time every day in every class learning about gender identification, and being asked to share their identification and pronouns….
  2. Massachusetts Governor Healey seeking to change the public school sex and health curriculum to include assessment and teaching of “values” and promoting Social -emotional Learning (SEL). Whose values is the state qualified to promote and when do differing values merit intervention with mental health check-ins and referrals to school counselors ?
  3. It is against the United States Constitution for Christian Nationalists to push religion into public school classrooms with flags, prayers and at times anti- LGBTQ propaganda. So, isn’t it also anti-Constitutional to bring politics such as Pride or Black Lives Matter flags and events into the classroom or asking students whether or not they use the same gender at home as used at school (to investigate potential abuse at home)?
  4. Bullying against any demographic is unethical and often leads to mental and/or physical harm, suicide and violence…. Anti-bullying policy must be implemented regardless of what extreme right or left ideology staff hold. This is not a left or right wing issue.
  5. According to author, Abigail Shrier- therapy creates victims…. I believe that is actually American’s long ugly history of violence against marginalized groups that creates victims. High quality, parent involved therapy is meant to address an epidemic of youthful anxiety, depression and self-harm. At the same time, when the student needs to hide their identity from disapproving or perhaps aggressive parents- they also require and deserve referrals to qualified mental health services and perhaps Child Protective Services.

What is Bad Therapy…. according to Abigail Shrier?

Shrier claims that

  1. Mental health professionals provide therapy to make $ and will say whatever needs to be said- to keep the cash flow…. Yes, therapists need to be paid after years of education and continuing education courses. Shrier is a lawyer and writer by trade, a very good writer at this! But she is not in any sense qualified to give mental health advice or judgement. She is making $$$ by writing this book and appealing to angry moms. I am also hoping to make money when you click on my blog advertisements and check out the books I wrote. This is something that we ALL do…. The alternative- to NOT providing caring adults with mental health training will only worsen the mental health crisis in America.
  2. Shrier claims that doctors have no business giving mental health surveys to young patients in private and then not sharing results with parents. She believes that asking children about suicide -gives them ideas that they may not have previously thought of… I can see her point, but I also understand that some families are plagued by poverty, violence, anti-LGBTQ values, incest and other extreme harms that adults in medical settings might be able to address using these surveys. I don’t see a simple right or wrong here, but a need for compromise and policy tweaking.
  3. Shrier spends many pages damning the evils of social media and many parents -including myself- often agree. Yes, devices are ingrained into our culture and many adults are the biggest abusers… so yeah, this is a problem. Some schools implement a ban during the school day- locking up cell phones in the morning and returning them at the end of the day. But, social media is here to stay and just because it contributes to mental health challenges does not mean that children should not have these challenges assessed and treated.
  4. Shrier demonstrates her ignorance most of all when belittling children with a social anxiety disorder, ADHD and sensory challenges that she thinks are related to overindulging adults and an overly zealous mental health care industry.
  5. Shrier believes that “the experts operate from the assumption that everyone requires therapy and that everyone is at least a little ‘broken’ ” (page 44 digital edition). “With the charisma of cult leaders, therapeutic experts convinced millions of parents to see their children as challenged. They infused parenting with self-consciousness and fevered insecurity. The conscripted teachers into a therapeutic order of education, which meant treating every child as emotionally damaged. They pushed pediatricians to ask kids as young as eight who had presented with nothing more than a stomachache-whether they felt their parents might be better off without them.” I believe that there may be some truth to these claims, but the value of surveys and adults seeking to prevent harm including suicide and murder outweigh Shrier’s rhetoric.
  6. Shrier claims that well-meaning therapists often act as though talking through your problems with a professional is good for everyone. She shares some of her own bad experiences- and I agree. Sometimes trauma is best treated with learning new skills that promote independence, function and moving forward rather than verbal rehashing. But one-size-fits all mental health strategies have never worked and individualization is essential.
  7. Shrier rips on medications designed to reduce anxiety, depression and other common debilitating conditions. She sites how the world has a rich history of medical abuses including lobotomy, shock treatments, insulin induced comas and in the past decade Shrier decries the “gender dysphoria craze, which led to a 4,000 percent increase in diagnoses for teen girls. A growing army of young women who regret their medical transitions, “detransitioners,” tell strikingly similar stories.” (page 90 in digital edition). Shrier addressed her dissatisfaction with the world of transitioning- a world that she seems to have no personal experience with, is biased against, and disgusted with in her book : Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters

Self-Harm- including cutting, pulling hair out and skin picking are not TRENDY!

Shrier describes symptoms of severe anxiety and depression as “trendy”. These are anxiety related emotional/behavioral and sensory based conditions that most people work really hard to hide- including me!

Shrier is ignorant to the fact that some children, often on the autism spectrum can become malnourished and may even die when they refuse food due to their sensory/behavioral challenges. In extreme case, feeding tube are required… Shrier further demonstrates her ignorance as she criticizes parents and school personnel for caving in when

  1. buying tag free clothing
  2. providing soft-sound machines
  3. giving in with food alternatives at the dinner table
  4. providing extended time for test taking
  5. worrying about the existential threat of the climate crisis- as in Greta Thunberg style protest and what Shrier calls a “climate-aware therapy” cottage industry that embraces their despair.
  6. Students with ADHD wandering the room and hallways and using bouncy seats
  7. sensitive parenting styles that involve never saying “NO” (I have worked with many of these parents, too!) and overemphasis on “feelings and trauma”.
  8. over monitoring children with eyeballs and/or APPS –
  9. avoiding public spaces and playdates due to resulting tantrums and other behaviors that Shrier blames parents for when caving in to their sensory challenged children…
  10. medicating children to address anxiety/depression and other caving in parenting choices.
  11. and the evils of distracting fidget tools…

When “Emotional Hypochondriacs” enter college and the workforce….

Shrier complains about today’s generation Z being too dependent and I actually agree with her on some points. Over the past 10 years, I have worked with several staff members in their 20’s who had no idea how to replace a missing button or darn a sock… There are currently many books on the market addressing today’s high school and college student who are pathologically anxious and dependent on adults. I would also describe some of them as coddled, too sensitive and too ready to shut down free speech that offends them. In fact, there is a cottage industry of books based on these themes:

Solutions to Public School Extremism

  1. Teach accurate, truthful history including fiction and memoirs such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas:, Tomorrow Will be Different by Sarah McBride and the Harper Lee classic, To Kill a Mockingbird that is sometimes banned in conservative school districts.
  2. While book banning is wrong in a Democracy, there is also a need for schools to carefully choose required reading books. A school board member in my small suburban town, north of Boston requested that the book Gender Queer be required reading. While this book may be appreciated by young adults in the LGBTQ community- the general population in public schools does not need to see graphic illustrations of oral sex, nor be told how disgusting menstruation is…. Books like these pour gasoline on the already simmering culture wars….
  3. Keep religion, flags, political events out of public schools. If religious families want to teach that homosexuality is a sin- that is their right and none of the school’s business – unless bullying behavior occurs. Instead, Honor human rights heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, discuss the meaning behind the national holiday Juneteenth Day and facts such as – women in the US were considered less than equal and hence not allowed to vote until 1920.
  4. Keep values assessments and training out of the health and sex curriculum. Stick to science. This is where children should learn about the science behind birth control, pregnancy termination and the health benefits of breastfeeding. Religious families may not like it, but science is real and American children must be educated with facts.

We Can’t Depend on All Children being Resilient….

Shrier like all White people, including myself has enjoyed the benefits of “White privilege”. After reading her book, I can assume that she grew up amongst other White people who did not experience racial discrimination, food insecurity, homelessness and other social ills impacting the poor. Her book describes numerous unfortunate situations that she blames on parents being too liberal, too weak on discipline and too vulnerable to the glut of “parenting” books on the market. She blames medications to treat psychiatric conditions such as ADHD and anxiety as “alternatives to discipline”.

Bad Therapy is based on the premise that children are resilient and mental health check-ins give them dangerous ideas such as self-cutting or suicide. Well, I want to end this book review by reminding readers that many children are born with emotional/neurological challenges that no amount of perfect parenting can cure. However, it is the duty of educators, occupational therapists and other providers to do their best to promote healthy minds and bodies.

Special education services are very expensive, but not providing them can create a long term mental health crisis…actually, I believe that the crisis is real and it is now. The following story is very sad and disturbing, but illustrates my point that good therapy can prevent or at least mitigate the impact of adult mental illness.

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