A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “Millennials Are the Therapy Generation” by Peggy Drexler, discusses millennials’ increased interest in therapy and new therapeutic strategies for engaging their generation. While I agree that millennials are open minded about therapy, what are their expectations? They often enter therapy prepared to be open about the challenges they are having, but are they open to feedback? I think it is necessary to explore what they perceive therapy to be, as well as what good therapy looks like. We need to engage millennials in therapy in ways that they can receive, but what people want from therapy is not always aligned with the best approach to personal growth and self-improvement. In this article, I want to encourage millennials interested in mental health treatment to adopt realistic expectations, so they can get the most out of their therapy.
If you are a millennial seeking treatment, you must ask yourself, “am I up for the journey?” Many millennials perceive therapy as helpful, and they come in with high hopes about its efficacy. Their expectations of how quickly therapy is going to cure them, though, can be unrealistic. They typically want advice and practical solutions early in treatment. The desire for solutions is genuinely good, but the process of finding the best solutions for them is a harder and longer journey. Getting them to stay past a handful of sessions can be a challenge. Some of them stick it out. Some of them work through the difficult emotions and dig deeper into the underlying reasons for their stress.
Whether or not someone chooses to go on the journey in therapy depends on many factors. Among the most important, especially for this generation, is the individual’s willingness to explore their decisions, mistakes, and failures. For a generation whose parents largely provided positive feedback and praise, this can be difficult to undertake. Many of them have never had to question themselves because their parents stepped in and solved some of their problems. So, now, they may be looking for their therapist to help them do the same. But it isn’t that simple. We must understand our choices and take responsibility for them before we can grow in our insight of how to make different ones. Acknowledging that sometimes we will do our best and still make a decision that we regret is part of the growth process. Thus, therapy involves growing out of avoidance and into personal responsibility.
This kind of journey can be hard for many people, not only millennials. But many millennials find it intolerable and not worth doing. They want therapy that’s quick, effective, and that reinforces their ideal self. Good therapy, insightful therapy teaches people to accept their choices, learn from them, and incorporate them into their development of identity. This kind of growth can be uncomfortable. You have to sit with it. That means you come back to therapy once a week, and it’s not always something you gleefully anticipate. You will leave some sessions feeling worse than when you started. You have painful questions to ponder sometimes. But as you progress through the journey, you notice changes in yourself and an understanding of yourself that you have gained through the process.