The developmental task of "leaving home," is important to mention when considering psychotherapy, because it is often the basis for many lingering emotional problems. In order to grow up, from babyhood to childhood to adolescence to young adulthood and to older adulthood, we all have to accomplish many tasks. Babies must learn to sit up, stand up, walk and talk. Children must learn to go to school and gather academic skills. Teen-agers must learn how to manage sexual feelings in socially appropriate ways and begin to make important life decisions. Being adult in this culture means learning to have a job or career, get along with co-workers, and perhaps create one's own family.

One important developmental task, difficult for many people, is the ability to separate from one's family of origin, and go out into the world. I call this task "Leaving Home." Many people are able to physically move out of their family's house, but they have difficulty creating an authentic adult self, that is different from the child they were in their parents' home. Within the culture of family life, we all are "assigned" various family roles. One child is known as the "helper," another the "bad boy," another "the smart one", another "the beauty," and so on. These roles are very influential about how we come to think of ourselves as we grow up.

In order to really Leave Home, one must be able to sort out what to take from family, including roles, values, morals, behaviors, etc., and what to leave behind. If you grew up in a family where things did not go well, are you "destined" to repeat the same patterns, as you create your own family? Or, can you learn to identify the patterns that troubled you and your family, and find ways to really give them up? Can you learn to substitute more productive, friendly, and caring behaviors? This process can include challenging some of the ways things happened as you grew up. Sometimes people are in conflict about this, because it can feel disloyal to one's parents to be critical of them. Of course, this is one of the wonderful uses of a therapy situation. One can be analytical and even critical, within the four walls of the psychotherapy office, without confronting parents or siblings, in person. The development of an analysis of one's family of origin can often be a tool in freeing one from old patterns of thought and behavior that are no longer useful. Ironically, doing the Leaving Home work, can often lead to a greater acceptance of one's family, with much improved current relationships.

The Leaving Home issue comes into play for adolescents who are contemplating their physical leave-taking, in order to go to college or take a job, but also for older people who have already left home. I often treat adults, who have left their families of origin behind decades ago, who have moved across the country, and now have families of their own. But, for these patients, too, Leaving Home can become an important issue to work on in therapy. To change one's life, it is often not enough to change geographical location, or spend time waiting for change to happen magically. The expression "wherever you go... there you are," is apt. To create real change, one must do the kind of internal psychological work that good psychotherapy can offer.