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Dear Emuna: Is It Time for Therapy?
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Is It Time for Therapy?

Should I take my teenage daughter to a therapist?


Dear Emuna,

How do I know when it's time to take my teenage daughter to therapy?

A Parent of Teens

Dear Parent of Teens,

Details please. It’s an elusive question that may depend on your daughter’s actions and attitudes.

In the extreme situation where your daughter is engaged in behavior that is either destructive to her or to others, I assume you would not be writing to me. It would be clear to you that the time has come.

On the other hand, it is possible that there is no extreme or dangerous behavior but that your daughter finds this time of her life to be particularly difficult (as is the case with most adolescents), is anxious and confused and requests that you make an appointment for her with someone. (In one recent situation I dealt with, the young girl’s friend actually confided to her how beneficial she found therapy for herself, thereby encouraging her friend to give it a try.) If your daughter requests it, even though her problems are not atypical for her age, it is also time.

The real challenge is in the middle. And, of course, because it’s the real challenge, I can’t give you a definitive answer. It really does depend on your coping skills. And on hers. On your level of anxiety and frustration. And on hers. On the amount of angry and defiant exchanges. On the level of hostility.

One helpful key may be how she behaves outside the home. If her friends’ parents find her to be helpful and polite, then don’t worry. She is just working out her issues in the safety and security of her own home. It’s not pleasant but it’s probably not cause for concern.

But if her negative adolescent behavior generalizes to her friends’ homes and to school, then I think it’s time.

Proceed slowly and carefully. Present it as an opportunity and not a punishment. Make sure you find a competent therapist (easier said than done) whose philosophy matches your own.

If presented properly (maybe along with some stories of your painful teenage years!), it shouldn’t be a hard sell. There’s nothing teenagers love more than an interrupted hour of talking about themselves.

Re-Establishing Contact
with Negative Mom

Dear Emuna,

When I was a young, my parents were divorced and my dad remarried. My birth-mother isn't the best of people and is a bad influence, but sometimes I wonder if I could influence her to be a better person. I feel hesitant to have any contact with her because of the problems she caused throughout my later childhood, but at the same time I wonder if I could help her be a better person. I'm not sure where to go with this, but what do you think I should do?

Concerned and Still Caring Child

Dear Concerned Child,

Once again I am left with very few details. What do you mean by “isn’t the best of people?” In what way is she a “bad influence”? And has she requested contact?

You also haven’t revealed anything about your current personal situation. Are you married? Do you have children?

If your goal is to change her (“help her” as you stated), then there is no point in contacting her. You will not be able to change her and will only end up frustrated and hurt. No one can change another person. That’s a choice she has to make for herself.

Assuming she is still capable of being a bad influence on those around her, then, depending on what that means, I would probably advise keeping her away from your children (if you have any) as well.

So what’s left? She is still your mother and you still owe her a debt of gratitude. If you feel that, as a mature adult, you are at a place in your life where you could express your gratitude to her and have some type of limited relationship without damaging personal consequences, then, of course, go ahead and initiate contact.

But only if those conditions are met.

High Anxiety

Dear Emuna,

I am always anxious. Whenever I resolve one issue, another arises. I am never at peace. What should I do? Do you recommend medication?

Fretful in NY

Dear Fretful,

This seems to be my week for general questions with few pertinent details. Unfortunately that also leads to very general answers.

Do you need medication? That is something that I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. Although the world is full of general practitioners who had out prescriptions for psychiatric medications like candy, I would recommend an appointment with a psychiatrist for a full evaluation if you are seriously considering this route.

It is impossible for me to gauge the severity of your anxiety. But I will say that some underlying anxiety is normal and that most people in today’s world live with and tolerate it.

Since your anxiety seems to move from one issue to the next, it seems that it’s an underlying condition and not related to specific situations. It’s just free-floating anxiety that settles on the most convenient target.

Outside of pharmaceuticals, the best way of conquering or at least taming anxiety is to work on your relationship with the Almighty. Reminding ourselves that He is in control, that He wants our good, that we have a personal relationship, should take the edge off. But it requires constant work. (Read this article on the subject.)

My husband suggests that every time we feel anxious we should say, “The Almighty should help me,” so that we use our anxiety to connect to the Almighty and deepen our relationship. It also helps us remember Who’s in charge, thereby diminishing or alleviating the pain.

An anxiety-free life is almost impossible. So don’t let your anxiety make your anxious! But if you really work to develop a relationship with the Almighty and to understand what that means, if you turn to Him in all your travails, then you should certainly be able to lead a “normal,” healthy life. Just like all the rest of us anxious human beings.

June 29, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 7

(4) Robert, January 17, 2014 2:07 AM

Therapy with permission from your child...

I guess every state is different. But my 16 year son needs help but unfortunately the state takes away my control. He has the right to reuse therapy that I choose or medication that I choose or educational programs. The law in my state is that once a teen is 14, they have power over their medical and psychological treatment. yet by law, I am still responsible for him. Go figure out that one.

(3) Raphaelle Do Lern Hwei, July 5, 2013 6:08 AM

Therapy, community support and being less anxious

Therapy only works as to give us ideas on how to handle pressing issues. I believe that a teenager should go for "therapy" in the form of youth self help group. Like for the Jewish community, it will be something like Birthright or Jewish Women's Renaissance. Better to build strong people than to repair broken souls or prevention is better than cure.

I am encouraged that someone is forgiving enough to be willing to help a dysfunctional parent who has been a pain to their growing children. I have read a few articles in on this topic. It is best to cosult our parents' peers on how to approach this. When my widowed father suddenly had a limp due to collapsed lumbar vertebrae, I told my uncles , aunts and neighbours to help prevent him falling as he is loudly resistant about home help and being member of a seniors' day centre.

Persistant anxiety is a neurosis (minor psychiatric condition) and is transient. May not need medication but social support. However, some medication is needed if this interferes with life.

(2) Yehudith Shraga, June 30, 2013 1:56 PM

One may not have a terapist for all the cases of the life

I deffently agree that the help of the pofessional should not be excluded, BUT as they say, if a person hasn't become him/herself a terapist for him/herself up to the age 40, his/her case is lost.

That is why exactly, the Wisdom of Kabbalh was permitted to study from this very age, because up to this age most of the life expereinces are behind and the negative results of our egoistic performances in life are very, very numerous, and the most earnest of us know that we tried everthing and nothing helped till we have found that the Sages' teaching on the inner self work by changing oneself from the egoistic into the altruistic human being was revealed to our Sages by Heavens and the study and practice of which may Enlight our lives too.

From the times of Arizal, Kabbalah is permitted for study from the age of 9! years old, which means that we have THE THERAPY but we are too lazy to work hard and are still looking for others to settle our problems, which are numerous in number and are going to be so till the end of the life, and if we do not learn what this world is about, what are the spiritual roots of our earthly femonena are, we are going to go from terapist to terapist with the little if any positive outcome for us and our children, while the answer is so near and is avalible for everbody, because it doesn't cost money, it costs a lot of "suffering" to our ego to learn what we have to do and what we have been doing with our lives up to now.

Anonymous, July 4, 2013 4:21 PM

I agree with Yehudith Shraga

Therapy is hurting our people and keeping them from the truth. Psychology is based on the study of animals. We are not animals, but we are living in a victim society where everyone wants to be coddled (like furry animals). Many believe suffering is terrible when it fact it is a very good thing, even for teenagers. The great sin of this generation is self importance and arrogance, which can both be eliminated by teaching our children true humility and giving them lessons in reducing the ego, all of which is laid out clearly by Chazel. Torah has the answer for everything, but as Yehudith explained, this help does not cost money and there will be suffering along the way. Since most everyone is running away or using therapy as a panacea for suffering, we will not grow and reduce that ego that is at the heart of much of our distress. Hashem cannot be in the same place with arrogance. We have to diminish ourselves and as we do this, Hashem strengthens us. The me, me, me has got to go, go, go.

Yehudith Shraga, July 5, 2013 2:58 PM

Well said!

Thank you for you excellent addition to the discussing of the problem.

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