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The necessity of adversity


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In Bad Therapy, Abigail Shrier discusses pitfalls of therapy and gentle parenting

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday April 9th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Up next: Author Abigail Shrier’s 2020 book titled Irreversible Damage was a bellwether, opening many people’s eyes to the evils of the transgender craze. Today, WORLD reviewer Chelsea Boes tells us if Shrier’s latest work lives up to that high standard.

CHELSEA BOES: In the new book, Bad Therapy, Abigail Shrier imagines if her grandmother–born in 1927–had been born in the 2000s instead. Her grandmother was an undernourished kid, passed among her relatives during childhood. She had gray teeth because she didn’t get enough milk, and she even spent a year in an iron lung. Shrier writes, “Today, school counselors and psychologists would invite a motherless girl like my grandmother into their offices, inquire about her family life and ensure that all of her teachers knew she’d been through something very hard.”

Like other members of the Greatest Generation, Shrier’s grandmother grew through hardship into optimism. But today, Shrier says she’d be at the mercy of “bad therapy”. In other words, “They would hunt for minute signs that she wasn’t coping, and because she was a bright girl, she would catch their meaning: she was damaged.” Shrier imagines that adults today wouldn’t punish her grandmother for bad behavior or dock her grades for missed assignments. They’d reason: “Hadn’t she been through enough?”

Here lies the most powerful point of Shrier’s book: kids require adversity to grow. They’re made that way. Shrier argues that the widespread talk therapy provided to kids raised by gentle parents carries profound risk of iatrogenesis—which means practitioners harming rather than healing their patients.

For Shrier, bad therapy teaches kids to navel-gaze. It encourages them to ruminate, accommodates their worries, and dispenses diagnoses liberally. Finally, bad therapy shepherds kids not toward healthy life patterns of discipline, challenge, and friendship but toward unneeded psychotropics. As she puts it, “Spare the rod, drug the child.” Bad therapy’s result? “Emotional hypochondriacs” who think mainly about themselves, the most depressing state of all.

The book is an engaging read, but Bad Therapy is often more like an invective than serious inquiry. Throughout, the reader feels a phantom pain: Where is the other side of the story? Where in Shrier’s argument is the kid who really did have a need for therapy and even medication? Where’s the therapist who really did help?

Still, Shrier’s book can help parents stop assuming all therapy is benign. A child’s therapist–like any authority figure–can use her influence for good or bad, and Christians should be on guard against possible pitfalls. On the whole, the book can move parents toward expecting more of their kids and hovering less—and that’s a freeing gift.

I’m Chelsea Boes.

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