Parents seeking help for an adult child who is slow to “grow up” can get help by working with a therapist specializing in failure to launch therapy. Such treatment generally takes place in one of two formats, each of which can be effective, depending on the needs of the particular family and the specific style and expertise of the therapist.
Family Therapy Approach:
Some therapists address failure to launch syndrome in traditional family therapy, meeting with the to-be-launched (TBL) family member along with one or both parents. Often this approach reveals other problems in the family as well; and the role of the “identified patient” may come to be understood as the lightning rod distracting from other problems in the family system.
Such an approach can be useful and may indicate a broader need for various kinds of family treatment, which may occur in various combinations — the parents as a couple, the whole family, or possibly each parent with one or more other family members, including the TBL family member.
Behavioral Intervention Approach:
Another approach to treating failure to launch has a more direct behavioral focus. Therapists trained in this modality work with the parents as a couple, mobilizing them as a united front to bring effective pressure to bear on the family member who needs a boost. The therapist helps the parents to get on the same page with one another in terms of the goals they have for the TBL family member. Often part of what has kept things stuck in the family is that the parents have not fully agreed about what needs to change, let alone how to make the change happen.
Focus on Leverage: The behavioral approach helps parents identify the leverage they have that can be used to create change. This is important because often parents facing their adult child’s failure to launch feel so helpless that they have lost sight of having any leverage at all.
Use of Explicit Written Expectations: With the help of the therapist, the parents write a letter to the TBL family member outlining the changes that they expect him or her to make — specific behaviors, with specific time frames, along with clear consequences if their TBL offspring does not comply. Expectations and consequences are applied in a stepwise fashion, starting with the things that are the most straightforward and easiest to change.
Relevant steps for addressing failure to launch will differ in each family but might include such things as the following: parents will no longer cover cell phone costs if the TBL offspring fails to do expected household chores; the TBL offspring’s laundry will be his or her own responsibility (not done by mom), and if it piles up and there’s an odor coming from the room, that the offending clothes will be thrown out; coverage for expenses that parents are picking up will be eliminated if the child is not in regular therapy; coverage for expenses that parents are picking up will be eliminated if the child is not in in school, or doing volunteer work; no money will be given by the parents unless it is matched proportionately by income from the child. And a similar stepwise process may be used when indicated to move the TBL offspring to his or her own residence (along with a plan for decreasing financial help for rent).
Parents as Team: This approach to failure to launch treatment helps the parents gain skill in working as a team as they begin with the easiest steps (expected behaviors and consequences) that both parents agree on and can consistently support. As the system starts to change, parents become more confident in their ability to exert change and the TBL family member understands that the world as he or she had come to understand it is now changing.
Additional Relevant Reading
© 2022 Marsha Vannicelli