Psychology is Not the Answer

 I was asked recently by a parent why we still have so many mental health issues with children and families when we have so many counseling and mental health services available.  She wondered if there was a problem with access or the inability for individuals to pay for these types of services.

My response, while not very comforting initially, was that the best help for children and families has nothing to do with mental health services or more generally, psychology.

Now to be perfectly clear, there are some fine people in the psychological professions that provide great care.  The issue is not necessarily these individuals; the issue is the “notion” that psychology holds the truth to dealing with these types of problems in the first place.

Let’s consider some information.  In 1986, the year I graduated high school, the number of children prescribed psychiatric medications was 1 in 400.  This year, 2012, that number is 1 in 40……a 1,000% increase.  In 1986, if you asked a group of high school students to raise their hands if they knew anyone who was suicidal or had been hurting themselves, you would be hard pressed to get a single hand raised.  Today, you ask a room full of middle schoolers that same question and you are hard pressed to find a hand that is not raised.

Now, ask one of your parents or grandparents about their experiences in school in the 1930’s – 1950’s.  They will tell you without hesitation that they remember very few if any kids having the level or types of difficulties in school as are reported as typical today.  As my father stated, “those types of issues didn’t exist.”

There currently is no clear record of the existence of issues like Attention Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Childhood Bipolar Disorder in these populations.  Yes, there are folks that will say that we just didn’t know what to look for then and we just misdiagnosed them.  The problem with that logic is that it is not logical.  Due to the very nature of the symptoms of these issues, if we weren’t treating them 50 and 60 years ago, the results would actually be more pronounced in the population, yet this is the time period in which the “Greatest Generation” was born.

By many estimates today, teenagers are 10 times more likely to suffer a major mental health issue by the age of 16 than they were 50 years ago.  Yet, most things in life are significantly easier….yes easier.  The notion that life is harder today is a myth.  For example, if you want a chicken sandwich today, you go to Chik-Fil-A.  In 1900 if you wanted a chicken sandwich….somebody had to go kill the chicken.  Virtually every process of life has been made easier and more convenient in the last 50 years.

Oh, I almost forgot.  If we are considering psychology, consider this.  There was a significant eruption in mental health services beginning in the 1970’s and continuing today.   There are more services available today than at any other point in history to address children and their “issues.”  There has also been an interesting trend in the development of mental health issues among children during this same time period.   As the number of mental health services has grown at record numbers since the 1970’s…..the number of mental health issues among children has grown.  Shouldn’t it be getting better?

By contrast, what is the current incidence of polio compared to the early 1900’s?  As the medical community began to treat this and many other conditions and diseases, they have been virtually eradicated from our culture.  It is interesting to note that most of medicine today makes a diagnosis based on finding a cause, while mental health makes a diagnosis based on symptoms.

There is nothing in our culture that can explain the drastic changes in the mental health of our children today other than how we have changed in parenting.  Today we parent psychologically; we overemphasize the emotional world of our children, attempt to increase self-esteem and think that we can control behavioral issues with a process of manipulating rewards and consequences.  The more “psychologically minded” we have become, the more our children and families have struggled . . . significantly.

Generations from about 1950 and prior, parented on Biblical principles.  Yes, even families that were not faith based, still applied generally accepted principles based on scripture.  And the evidence is overwhelming –  they were much healthier and happier.  So ask yourself this question: what is my parenting paradigm?  Or as a good friend of mine puts it, what is your parenting view?

The evidence is pretty clear; the One who designed us knows how to run the family.

by Keith McCurdy

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