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What is Failure to Launch and its Treatment
November 30, 2020 at 5:00 AM
Young explorer

Simply put, failure to launch is when young adults struggle with the transition to adulthood. My treatment for failure to launch is tailored to each individual, beginning with psychological assessment and then treatment recommendations designed to enhance the individual’s overall well-being, efficacy, and motivation.

A Deeper Look at Failure to Launch

Young people today often struggle with coming to a clear sense of who they are and what they want. While some degree of uncertainty is normal, it is when this uncertainty leads the person to abandon the pursuit of activities designed for enhancing their life, such as their educational goals, career goals, and interpersonal relationships, that a problem develops. Individuals who have these qualities tend to appear aimless, directionless, and often struggle to identify pathways beyond anything related to their immediate needs. They may seem unmotivated, depressed, sometimes suicidal, aimless, self-centered, and apparently aloof to their inner psychological world. They also seem incapable of having more intimate or close relationships, with maybe more than a few people. A number of these individuals have functioned rather well in high school but then in college begin a decline in functioning such that they might seem like a totally different person. They might go from being a top-tiered student to a college dropout, much to their own and their family’s despair. Others might obtain a university degree, but then find it nearly impossible to obtain a job in their field, thus moving into a place of despair and hopelessness.

There are many reasons for these problems. While often there are underlying psychological conditions that affect a person’s functioning (e.g., major depressive episode, panic attacks, generalized anxiety), there can be personality factors that prevent the person from moving forward. Often, this is rooted in the sense of self, which is broadly encompassed by the person’s self-esteem and agency. Sometimes, this can be driven by problems with knowing how to engage in an empathic, mutually satisfying relationship. And other times, traumas might disrupt the young adult’s developmental trajectory. Outside of one’s inner world and psychological history, it is true that life today is extremely different than it is for those of us who are 40 or beyond. An ever-present social media, which accentuates problems in society and the world, creates the expectation that living life will be fraught with conflict and pain. Student load debt also can be crushing, as is the very expensive nature of modern day living. Collectively, individuals can feel overwhelmed and shut down.


Parents naturally want to support their children to give them the best chance at a successful and fulfilled life. But as children get older and transition into young adulthood, the reliance on their parents must wane so they can be independent. Unfortunately, some parents have trouble letting go and continue supporting their children while actually hindering their evolution towards adulthood. Other parents take an overly active role in managing events in their child’s life which should have been managed by the child, with only minimal support from the parents.

Parents are not the only source of enabling. Many things are now automated that were not in the past. Basic math skills are no longer emphasized, given the easy access to calculators; neither are spelling, grammar, cooking, and other self-care skills. One can rely on computers, fast food, or easy-care fabrics. These are not inherently bad things, but when the individual loses the agency and satisfaction that comes from managing his or her life in these basic skills, it makes it all the harder to believe that you can enter into the world with efficacy and competence

My Treatment for Failure to Launch Syndrome

My approach involves an initial assessment of each person, often consulting with parents or significant people in the person’s life. I often will conduct a comprehensive psychological evaluation on the individual, focusing upon the understanding person’s personality functioning and evaluating for any underlying psychopathology. From this, I will provide feedback aimed at addressing questions and concerns that the person has. A treatment plan will be discussed, which could include any or all of the following: individual psychotherapy, referral to a psychiatrist for medications, referral to a career advisor, and consultation with family members. Group treatment may also be recommended. I aim to increase the individual’s awareness of him or herself and ability to identify those psychological and behavioral obstacles that prevent the person from moving forward. I also try to help family members engage in the most useful and adaptive ways possible, so that old dysfunctional patterns are not repeated. Failure to launch is manageable and the stigma attached to it can be overcome. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of help.