David Heinemeier Hansson

March 31, 2024

Bad Therapy

This book nails it. What it's like to be a parent with school-age children in America right now. So many kids with a diagnosis of one sort or another, so much monitoring of children's every move, so much anxiety over the most trivial things, like the sugar content of a cupcake. Abigail Shrier ties all these threads together into a damning tapestry of well-cited arguments for why much of modern parenting in America is failing the kids it purports to care for so catastrophically.

I simply couldn't put it down. I've read a few parenting books, and I usually have to somewhat dig to find something to take away. But Bad Therapy required no digging. It is unusually dense with eye-opening and deeply resonating take-aways. From its diagnosis to its anecdotes.

It's also depressing. That this is what's become of the modern American childhood experience in so many places. The almost fully eroded sense of childhood independence, with its moderate dangers and teaching moments. Replaced with cotton-ball cocoons to keep kids from dealing with even the most minor of setbacks themselves. Lest accusations start flying of how somebody, somewhere OUGHT TO HAVE DONE SOMETHING.

It's without a doubt the worst thing about living in America for me at the moment. The hyper-active, hyper-involved parents who have hair-trigger intervention fingers ready to be pulled at the slightest appearance of social discomfort or disharmony. Eager to do calls, follow-ups, and long threads of texting to "unpack" whatever happened between so and so in the playground at recess. Placated by administrators and teachers all to eager to assume greater involvement with every living millisecond and millimeter of school life.

Combined with the fact that we, me, us are all complicit. All so easily sucked into it all. I hate it.

Which is how Shrier's book emerges like such an oasis in the middle of a desert of such arid ideas. From "gentle parenting", to social-emotional-learning programs, to trauma-me-this-and-trauma-me-that thinking, it's all seemingly spreading everywhere. So this forceful refutation of the lot of it quenches a deep thirst for opposition. And boy does it deliver!

It's delightfully polemic, with pointed and named refutations of the specific intellectuals who are at the center of advancing these bad ideas. It reads like it was written by a writer entirely unafraid of slaughtering the sacred cows of the upper-class zeitgeist. Because it is! 

In 2020, Shrier wrote Irreversible Damage, about the dramatic surge in transgender identification, and the medical interventions and experiments that have come with it. It was so controversial that it made one of the leading lawyers at the ACLU, Chase Strangio, tweet that "stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on". Yikes.

So to say Shrier has been through the cancellation ringer is an understatement of epic proportions. Her first appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast even prompted a fringe of Spotify employees to protest the company's sponsorship of the podcast.

But Shrier made it through. And there is perhaps nothing quite as fortifying as staring down a censorship mob, and then later seeing your testimony confirmed. See the WPATH Files or the NHS' reversal on puberty blockers, as just two examples validating the concerns raised in that book.

No wonder Bad Therapy has instantly become a best seller. Regardless of your parenting approach, I think you'll be forced to think long and hard about it after reading Shrier's book. It's all but ensured to push some buttons in almost everyone. When it does, don't quit it, stick with it.

The message couldn't be more timely. The mental health statistics on kids and young adults today are horrifying. What American parents have been doing for the last twenty-plus years is so resoundingly not working. All the therapy, the accommodations, the pills, and the interventions have failed to produce a generation of happy, independent kids. It's way over due for thee parents, us parents, to go back to drawing board. There's no way the answer is more of the same.

You gotta read it.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.