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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

If you want to climb a mountain, don't go two steps and ask, 'How do I feel?'

Nearly all public schools offer some type of counseling, mental health or "wellness" lessons, writes Abigail Shrier in Free Press. But kids are more troubled than ever. Often, these interventions "target the healthy, inadvertently exacerbating kids' worry, sadness and feelings of incapacity."

In her new book, Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up, Shrier complains that social-emotional learning has gone far beyond teaching students how to disagree respectfully or "get a grip." It's become "a curricular juggernaut that devours billions in education spending each year."

Teachers are encouraged to start the school day with an “emotions check-in.” At a conference for California teachers, counselor Natalie Sedano shared her check-in: “How are you feeling today? Are you daisy-bright, happy and friendly? Or am I a ladybug? Will I fly away if we get too close?”

Paying too much attention to feelings doesn't help distressed children, psychologist told Shrier.

“I’d say: worry less. Ruminate less,” said Leif Kennair, an expert on the treatment of anxiety. “Try to verbalize everything you feel less. Try to self-monitor and be mindful of everything you do — less.”

People are more likely to meet a challenge if they focus on the task, rather than their own emotional state, said Michael Linden, a professor of psychiatry at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin. “If you want to, let’s say, climb a mountain, if you start asking yourself after two steps, ‘How do I feel?’ you’ll stay at the bottom.”

Good therapists are trained "to avoid encouraging rumination, a thought process typified by dwelling on past pain and negative emotions," writes Shrier. Teachers are not.

A Salt Lake City mother told her about an "emotions check-in" for fifth graders in which the teacher asked: What "is making you really sad right now?"

. . . one boy began mumbling about his father’s new girlfriend. Then things fell apart. “All of a sudden, he just started bawling. And he was like, ‘I think that my dad hates me. And he yells at me all the time,’ ” said Laura, a mom of one of the other students.
Another girl announced that her parents had divorced and burst into tears. Another said she was worried about the man her mother was dating. Within minutes, half of the kids were sobbing. It was time for the math lesson, but no one wanted to do it.

To be fair, "social emotional learning" can mean many different things, some of which are sensible self-regulation skills, such as planning, collaborating or not hitting the annoying kid next to you.

Some students have serious problems and would benefit from professional help, writes Kay S. Hymowitz in a City Journal review.  They should not pushed to discuss their personal issues in class with an untrained teacher and gossipy classmates.

Shrier, the mother of twins, also criticizes modern parenting, which has turned parents into "ersatz therapists," endlessly understanding and always exhausted: “Sammy, I see that you’re feeling frustrated. Is there a way you could express your frustration without biting your sister?”

The old “knock it off, shake it off,” parenting "met kids’ interpersonal conflict with 'work it out yourselves,' and greeted kids’ mishaps with 'you’ll live',” she recalls. "Knock it off" meant: "You’re a smart kid, figure it out. But also: You can."

"American kids are the freest, most privileged kids in all of history," and "the saddest, most anxious, depressed, and medicated generation on record," says Bari Weiss on Honestly. She talks to Shrier about therapy culture on her podcast.

By the way, at least for adults, dancing, jogging, yoga, lifting weights and aerobics are "as effective as cognitive behaviour therapy – one of the gold-standard treatments for depression," writes researcher  Michael Noetel on Conversation. People can literally "shake it off."


Rob Perelli-Minetti
Rob Perelli-Minetti
Mar 01

In the late 1960s, I remember the popularity of Esalan style 'encounter groups' in which one member was on the 'hot seat' and taken down by the group leader and the group....In theory, the group leader was supposed to put the 'disassembled' member back together 'better' -- which in fairness could happen in the hands of a truly gifted therapist like Fritz Perls (himself, not his epigoni). Of course, most of the leaders were, at best, third-rate psychology graduate students who shouldn't been let loose to drive a therapy bike without training wheels. Sitting through several weeks of one of those groups prompted me to turn the tables on the leader and take her down, leaving her a gibbering me…


Feb 29

The lowest level therapist, an LMFT, requires a 4-year BA, then a 2-3 year masters, then 2 years of supervised clinical work, then passing a licensing exam. That's 4 years of post-BA work just to be able to put up a shingle.

Teachers are not similarly trained. They are not psych professionals, they are simply not trained and not capable of responsibly messing with the emotional life of their students. They should not be asked to do so, and should be actively prevented from doing so.

They should have knowledge of pediatric psych issues--which is why ed certification almost always requires classes in child psychology--so that they can flag students who look like they are struggling for referral to actual…

Feb 29
Replying to

Unfortunately, it seems that far too many teachers want to be amateur therapists and/or political activists rather than academic instructors. My ES teachers (1950s), even the Normal School (1 year post HS) grads I had until fifth grade, were far more academically oriented and competent than even the “new” teachers (college grad post 1980 or so) my kids had. Each of them, with no specialty teachers, provided instruction in phonics etc, grammar, spelling, composition, literature, math, geography, history, government and art/music history/appreciation every day/week - and that was in a small-town with fewer than a dozen college grads (not all teachers lived in town) and in which the large majority of grandparents had not finished HS. The adults were all…


Feb 29

If one wants to depend on the parents, one may want to review the book "Troubled" by Rob Henderson.


Feb 29

If you want to climb a mountain, you'd best start with some small hills to build your strength and confidence. Feelz don't get it.

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