Does my daughter need therapy?

By Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D.

Dear Dr. Diana

My 25-year-old daughter is having a difficult time. She’s in graduate school in another state and when she recently came home for a visit, she seemed very depressed and unhappy. We try to talk with her but it’s really hard. She gets upset when we try to give her advice like we are insulting her. It’s frustrating because we worry about her being so far away and struggling so much. I think she needs counseling. My husband (her stepfather) keeps telling her that this is the best time in her life and she should be enjoying it. It’s hard to know how to help her. Do you think that since we are supporting her that we have a right to insist that she go to counseling?

— Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom,

While being in your 20s has probably never been easy, for some young people it may be more difficult than it was when we were kids. Recent studies on happiness reveal the 20s and 30s as the most anxiety- ridden times for most people. It’s always been a time for discovering one’s identity apart from one’s family. But in todays’ expansive world facilitated by information technology, the world has never been more accessible or overwhelming. Couple with that the challenging economic times, less available entry level jobs, higher rents and healthcare costs, young people do have cause for concern.

Counseling can only help those who want to be helped. And for people in their 20s and 30s, often times they just have to go through life’s various experiences. In other words, get through the school of hard knocks before they achieve emotional wisdom and security. It’s hard for parents to feel like they are just standing by and letting it happen. But a little adversity can do a lot of good. Don’t deny your child the important opportunities that come along to learn life’s most important lessons — the ones with real consequences that can sometimes bring unhappiness and frustration in the short term.

There is an old saying that too much sunshine makes a desert. And using another old cliché, into everyone’s life, some rain must fall. I’m a big proponent of therapy because I’ve seen it work.

Brain chemistry may have something to do with the sensitivity that some young adults have when getting input or feedback from their parents. Neuroscientists have discovered that in younger adults, the amygdala, the brain’s emotional nut, is activated when exposed to negative and positive input, whereas adults from midlife on seem to have the ability to tune out or diminish negative emotions; their amygdala lights up when they see positive images, and much less so if at all when they see negative ones.

No doubt about it, being a parent to a young adult can be challenging. As our parents will probably attest – most likely it was equally challenging to our parents when we were young adults.

Keeping in mind that your daughter is going through a difficult period, try to be accepting and encouraging without telling her that she shouldn’t feel the way she does. If she will talk with you, try to do more listening that suggesting. Ask her how if she feels depressed and if so, how bad it is. It is a good idea to encourage her to see a psychologist. If her depression has been going on for a while and you are concerned for her safety, do insist that she get some help. But if her depression is mild and her schoolwork is going okay, you could keep the conversation going instead of pushing her to get professional help.

This column is not a replacement for a professional consultation, evaluation and is not meant to be therapy.

Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (psy#12476) in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California. She specializes in marriage and couples counseling, divorce recovery, and stepfamily issues.

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