I’m in high school and unmotivated to do well in school – I don’t know what to do
DR. RUTHERFORD: This is a very interesting dilemma. Lack of motivation to do well can be caused by a number of things.
MOLLY: This was submitted by a high school student in Redwood City, California. He added that he tries “in school and in life” but feels like he can do a lot better. For example he knows he needs to study for the SAT test but despite knowing that, has no motivation to do his best. He added that he’s wondering if he and his Mom, who is divorced and “single handedly supporting (him) should see a therapist and if so, what type?”
He sounds like he recognizes that he has a problem but is “lost.”
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, I think “lost” is the right word. I would start out wondering if he’s worried about leaving his mother on her own if he goes off to college. What if he does well and leaves her behind on her own? It sounds like she’s been having a difficult time, especially about money issues. College costs lots of money; maybe he feels guilty using her money for school. If he doesn’t score well on the SATs and school testing, he won’t be going to college.
MOLLY: That’s interesting. What other things should be considered?
DR. RUTHERFORD: I think he might be depressed, which is contributing to his ‘paralysis of will’. We don’t know anything about his relationship with his father – does he financially contribute to the family, does he see his child regularly, is he a good role model for his son, etc. A father’s role is extremely important in a child’s life, particularly in role modeling successful behavior and encouraging that in his son – or, for that matter, a daughter.
MOLLY: Do you think he should see a therapist?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Absolutely! I feel strongly about the importance of him seeking some help. Intuitively, I think he needs to see someone without his mother, so that he can feel freer to talk about any guilt he may be experiencing as well as his depression. I think his Mom can certainly attend a session or so with him.
MOLLY: What kind of therapist should he see?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Someone familiar with treating kids his age who uses a psychodynamic approach. This kind of approach recognizes the importance of understanding feelings and motivations that are under the surface. Just telling him to do well won’t get too far, I’m afraid. He sounds depressed to me and perhaps feeling guilty, too.
MOLLY: Are there long term consequences for not addressing this issue now?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Without a doubt. He is unfocused about his future, even as he knows how important it to focus. He could miss the opportunity to go off to school and all that that implies. He certainly could do that later in his life, but he needs to work through this issue, no matter what. This kind of “paralysis of will” could follow him through much of his life, and that would be a real shame. It sounds like he has great potential.