Back when I was in graduate school (granted, an eon ago), a psychotherapist was viewed as top dog in the therapy room, a benign but undisputed authority on matters of growth and healing. In class, we watched videos of the virtuosos—Fritz Perls,Virginia Satir, Salvador Minuchin—and witnessed them seize full, magisterial control of the therapy hour, while most of their clients dutifully did as they were told—dove into their childhoods, enacted family dramas, reframed their self-defeating beliefs—and then eagerly awaited transformation.
At the same time, many of us young therapists tried our best to project the masterful certainty of the maestros, or at least take the clear lead in the therapy room. Not all clients accepted their roles as deferential recipients of wisdom, but most seemed reasonably content to do so (or if not, they mostly kept their discontent under wraps). For roughly the next few decades, the traditional therapeutic hierarchy remained in place.
Now, however, we live in a vastly altered therapeutic universe, responding to a vastly different world than the one in which I came of age. So here, we focus on today’s young adults (many of whom bristle at the label millennials, too often used as a pejorative). Not only have they ushered in many of the changes taking place in the therapeutic relationship and the issues we address in therapy, but they increasingly represent the newest crop of therapists, who often have important things to teach their older, seasoned mentors about what today’s clients want and need.
In this issue, you’ll hear from veteran therapists describing moments in their practices that illustrate the tricky but critical adaptations that clinicians need to make to connect with this new generation of clients. They candidly confess how unprepared they’ve often felt about some new issues that have emerged in their practices—the paralyzing impact of having seemingly infinite choices and sociopolitical responsibilities, the control smartphones can exert over young people’s emotional lives, and the notable lack of introspection of many in a generation who’ve grown up in a world where curating an online identity often takes precedent over searching for a “true” self.
But you’ll also hear the fresh voices of 20- and 30-somethings resisting stereotypes about who they are, explaining what’s worked and what hasn’t for them in therapy. And, from the opposite end of the therapeutic conversation,you’ll hear what it’s like to start a career as a clinician when the traditional road maps for making your way don’t seem so reliable anymore.
The message couldn’t be clearer: we need to meet today’s young adults on their own territory, which may be a dizzyingly unfamiliar landscape for many older therapists. First off, they want less therapeutic wizardry and more agency and practical information as they address their difficulties. But that’s the easy part. You should also expect to be caught off guard by the deeply personal questions you’ll be asked, drawn into extended political discussions that you were once taught to avoid at all cost, followed on social media, or interrupted in the once sacrosanct therapy hour as a client unthinkingly decides to answer a text. What do you do? (Hint: a knee-jerk “no way” probably won’t work.)
If we want to attract—and keep—younger clients, we need to be ready to fully engage with who they are and what’s vital to them. And whatever you do, don’t call them millennials.
- Richard Simon, Editor