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What Did Kids Do Before Therapy?

By Sierra Black |

4004791663_0d10fc20ae_mWhat did kid’s do about their problems back in the day? Only a few generations ago, there was no booming childhood psychiatry industry. Child therapists didn’t have offices in every neighborhood, and medications to treat mental health issues were unheard of.

How did those kids cope?

It’s an obvious question, in a world cluttered with headlines about childhood problems ranging from ADHD to depression to the newly proposed “temper disregulation with dysphoria”, which appears to be a fancy name for pathological temper tantrums.

In this week’s New York Times, therapist and writer Erik Kolbell attempts an answer.

Kolbell recounts the troubles he experienced as a child growing up with ADHD, but without a diagnoses, saying:

In short, I was an A.D.H.D. kid, lacking only a diagnosis. And now that I know that the condition was a result of my body’s inherent inability to manage the flow of neurotransmitting chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, all of my parents’ heated entreaties to “buckle down” and “pay attention to what’s in front of you” were about as useful as telling a nearsighted child to see clearly without glasses.

He recalls other classmates who suffered greater challenges than difficulty paying attention in school: kids who were abused, or suicidal, or who abused drugs. Kids who needed help, and never got it, because there was no one to give it.

The flip side of that, of course, is that a very great many kids in America today get help they maybe don’t need. We have two-year-olds taking powerful anti-psychotic drugs to control their purported bipolar disorder, and 5 million kids have been diagnosed with ADHD.

There’s a huge mental health industry that exists today to support these kids and their families. How much of that is needed mental health care and how much of it is hype?

As a parent, I know how hard it is to watch a child struggling, especially if those struggles take the shape of misbehavior. It’s incredibly tempting to reach out and insist that there must be Something that Someone can do to make it better. A pill, an exercise routine, a special diet. Something outside the strained, exhausted, fragile family that can come in and make things better.

I also have my own childhood memories to draw on. Unlike Mr. Kolbell, I am young enough to have grown up with an ADHD diagnoses. It was first given to me when I was 4, before I even started school. We moved a lot, and I’ve lost count of how many diagnostic tests I filled out, how many different therapists have diagnosed me with the same disorder and tried to treat it.

Would I have been OK just toughing it out without all the tedious, embarrassing therapies and medications? I doubt it. Even on Ritalin, I was so hyperactive my 1st grade teacher put a refrigerator box over my desk to keep me sitting in it.

Even as an adult, I can’t function at full steam without medication. Having access to that makes my life a whole lot better. In an earlier generation, I suspect I’d be a less effective, more frustrated version of myself.

What do you think? Were kids better off before the mental health industry discovered them as lucrative clients? Or are today’s kids being served – and in some cases saved – by their therapists and pills?

Photo: Pink Sherbert Photography

More by Sierra Black:

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Working Parents Exhausted

Sleep Training Success Depends on Parents’ Attitudes

Museum Says Member Cards Not Safe For Kids

Children of Neo-Nazis Given Into State Custody

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About Sierra Black

sierra

Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “What Did Kids Do Before Therapy?

  1. Amy says:

    The link to the NY Times article just takes you to a Babble article. & my search for Erik Kolbell on the Times website didn’t work. I would love to read this article. It sounds very thought provoking. Thanks.

  2. Larissa says:

    Kids are better off when society recognizes that they are people – that they are subject to mental illness and psychological suffering. As with physiological issues, they are not just mini-adults, their needs and problems are different, but they do have needs and problems.

  3. Sara says:

    Before therapy those kids just dropped out of school.

  4. Sierra Black says:

    @ Amy: thanks for the heads up! It’s fixed now.

  5. Laure68 says:

    The idea that we are all over-medicated is a myth. Americans take much less medication per capita than other industrialized countries. The real problem is that there are people who need treatment and cannot afford it.

  6. Allison says:

    I think many kids are diagnosed with some type of disorder and thus medicated because their parents are unable or unwilling to properly discipline them.

  7. Suzanne says:

    Allison – I can’t believe anyone would still think that. You can’t just take a misbehaving child to a professional and say “give me some drugs,” and they comply. It is a long drawn out process between schools, parents, and multiple professionals to get a child evaluated and eventually prescribed a medication for a legitimate problem they have. And it is monitored, and done in conjunction with therapy.Many parents (like myself) had severe problems growing up and wish, wish, wish someone had seen those problems and helped me, when I desperately needed it. If those parents see their child with similar problems, there is no way they are going to ignore their child’s struggle. They are going to do whatever they can to help. And that is a good thing, for the individual child and family, and for society overall, in my opinion.

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