‘Whatever you do, don’t run around telling other people about your problems,” my husband’s grandfather used to say. “Half of them don’t care, and the other half are happy the problems are happening to you.”

It’s sound advice. These days, it’s also wildly and almost laughably countercultural. Bad Therapy, Abigail Shrier’s important, compelling, and often alarming new book, details how many of today’s kids are taught to do the exact opposite, encouraged to marinate obsessively in a murky bath of their own inchoate—and sometimes capricious—feelings. The results are not good: The kids these days, it appears, are increasingly a basket case.

Before we get to the depressing statistics, I’d like to get one thing off of my chest: I loved Bad Therapy, ripping through it and nodding and taking copious notes, all the while grimly noting that the book contains too many interesting ideas to unpack in a single review. But then again, of course I loved it: I’m a late-stage Gen Xer raised in a frosty no-nonsense corner of the American Midwest where emotional repression was practically elevated to an art form.

I suspect that if I were to recommend Bad Therapy in different circles, I might get the same response I got when I cheerfully announced on my left-leaning book club’s group text that I couldn’t wait to reelect Senator Ted Cruz. Just for fun, while writing this review, I sauntered in to my local progressive book store—you know, the kind with the weirdly oversexed children’s section and the proud display of “banned books” that aren’t actually banned—and asked for Bad Therapy, which by then had hit the New York Times bestseller list.

The store would have to order the book, I was somberly told, and it wouldn’t arrive for three weeks. It was almost as if they were going to have to haul it into the wilds of Texas via the Pony Express.

Anyway, back to the depressing statistics. A stunning 42 percent of Generation Z has been diagnosed with a mental-health condition, Shrier writes. Ten percent of today’s kids have an ADHD diagnosis, with the number even higher for boys. Anxiety-disorder diagnoses have skyrocketed, along with some disturbingly profligate pharmacological prescription pads: A study in the March 2024 issue of Pediatrics, published after Bad Therapy’s release, reports that antidepressant use among 12- to 25-year-olds rose 66 percent between
2016 and 2022.

“With unprecedented help from mental health experts, we have raised the loneliest, most anxious, depressed, pessimistic, helpless, and fearful generation on record,” Shrier writes. Moreover, “as treatments for anxiety and depression have become more sophisticated and more readily available, adolescent anxiety and depression have ballooned.”

The supposed solution, in other words, might be fueling the problem. It’s important to note that Bad Therapy doesn’t throw the entire therapeutic enterprise out with the bathwater. Shrier argues that good therapy for young people with serious mental and emotional issues is often helpful and sometimes downright necessary.

But one thing becomes clear as you work your way through Bad Therapy: Here in 2024, therapy is big business, so much so that the booming therapeutic industrial complex has wormed its way into almost every corner of American life. “The experts are out there,” Shrier writes, “minting young patients faster than anyone can cure them.”

This isn’t just an issue of overanxious parents shipping their kids off to therapy at the drop of a hat or the death of the family cat—although, as Shrier notes, this is indeed happening with distressing frequency. (And in these cases, many therapists are financially incentivized to not instruct their young charges to simply move on, shake it off, and never come back to pay hourly therapy fees ever again.)

The broader calamity, Bad Therapy argues, is that our supposedly kind, gentle, and obsessively empathic therapeutic culture boasts some disastrous unintended side effects—and at this point, they’re being “crop-dusted across the entire population.”

Dwelling on your problems, it turns out, can often magnify them. “Gentle parenting” often leads to lost and sullen teenagers—or, even worse, undisciplined monster preschoolers capable of terrorizing an entire airplane full of innocent passengers just trying to make it to spring break. Done poorly, excessive therapeutic techniques can induce negative feedback loops, fresh phobias, poor coping skills, self-absorption, unhealthy obsessions, and a laundry list of bonkers ideas.

Remember lobotomies? Repressed memories? The Satanic Panic? And dare I even mention the wild explosion in gender dysphoria that Shrier covered in her previous book, Irreversible Damage, making various heads explode across the country, kind of like when Austin Powers destroyed that band of gorgeous evil lady robots using only his own wild sex appeal and a pair of tight Union Jack underpants?

Speaking of the Satanic Panic, one of my aunts—a devout conservative, a lovely lady, and a devoted reader with an extensive library—had one book on her shelf that faithfully printed out all of the blasphemous, sexual, and allegedly demonic lyrics one could find in rock music today. (At that point, “today” was the late 1980s, but you get the drift.) I wasn’t allowed to listen to satanic heavy-metal music, but that didn’t matter—I could get all the sordid, inappropriate, and NC-17-rated details from the tome that was supposed to be steering me away from it! Boy, did my cousins and I love that book.

In the same way, our culture’s obsession with dwelling on the negative can backfire in impressive fashion. Some of the most harrowing scenes from Bad Therapy take place in your friendly neighborhood public school. Instead of getting detention, poorly behaved students are often referred to the school psychologist. “Social-emotional learning” encourages kids to dwell on what makes them sad. Even worse, a terrifying raft of intrusive government mental-health surveys is apparently distributed on a regular basis. I’m paraphrasing, but the questions basically boil down to the following: “Have you ever thought about suicide? Why not? Have you ever thought about cutting yourself? Why not? Do you want to start now?”

Generation X, Shrier argues, was ultimately an “easy mark” for the culture of over-therapeutic parenting, given our shared history as the last generation of latchkey kids. She may be right. But Bad Therapy is not all doom and gloom, particularly as it nears its end. “As far as I can tell, the purpose of childhood is to allow kids to take risks—things that involve getting all kinds of hurt—and to practice the skills they will need as adults while they are safely under their parents’ roofs,” Shrier writes. A truly happy childhood, she continues, involves “experiencing all of the pains of adulthood, in smaller doses,” so that kids can “build up immunity to the poison of heartache and loss.”

In other words, helicopter parents—and many of us are at least occasionally tempted to be one—might want to come in for a landing. The basics are actually pretty simple, as Bad Therapy notes in its close: Love your kids. Limit the isolating forces of today’s technology. Eschew the medicalization of everything. Question suspicious “experts.” And, most important, give kids a sense of individual agency, independence, and the glory of a non-micromanaged childhood.

Photo: AP Photo/Haven Daley

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