On the weaponization of therapy speak

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Jonah Hill became the face of weaponized therapy speech after texts were released from ex-girlfriend Sarah Brady in 2023

Megan Trotter | News Editor

The mental health movement has been working overtime to destigmatize the societal hush order on discussing mental health. With an increased push for people to be more emotionally aware, some have begun to loosely interpret the terms commonly heard in your standard half hour therapy session.

‘Therapy speak’ refers to “when people use psychological, therapeutic or mental health language in day-to-day conversations,” according to clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo in an article from MindBodyGreen.

Suddenly, it seems everyone is a mental health expert and pointing out everyone else’s shortcomings. But just knowing ‘therapy speak’ does not qualify one to counsel others.

While Community Mental Health Journal published findings that reveal shared experiences make us more willing to seek help, more aware of where to find help and more likely to encourage others to get support, we may have over corrected.

As words previously reserved for the walls of a Ph.D.’s office like “trauma,” “toxic” and “gaslight” leak into common vernacular, we open people up to manipulation by others.

Actor Jonah Hill became the face of weaponized ‘therapy speak’ in 2023 when his then-girlfriend, Sarah Brady, posted a video from a licensed professional counselor, Jeff Guenther, according to the Mercury News, that described how Hill had been controlling Brady by setting what Hill described as personal “boundaries.”

Brady revealed text messages ranging from 2021 to 2022 that included comments from Hill encouraging her to turn down professional opportunities to surf and model, as well as limit contact with male surfing colleges and certain female friends, according to the Daily Mail.

“Guenther said misusing therapy language ‘can be super problematic as it masks controlling behavior under a commonly accepted positive concept — in this case boundaries,’” according to the Mercury News.

It is important to set healthy boundaries. When Hill established his “boundaries” with Brady, he neglected the keyword “healthy.” He chose to view any behavior undesirable to him from his partner as a breach. Hill’s own behavior proves that entering relationships with guns blazing and accusations of negative behaviors like trauma-dumping, narcissism and love-bombing can have negative effects.

Hill claimed that he was calling Brady out for negative behavior. In his attempt to do so, he displayed the same manipulative behavior he was claiming to fight against.

While one person in the relationship may feel their partner is toxic because they don’t spend enough time with them, the other person in the relationship feels attacked by the accusation of being toxic and believes their partner is gaslighting them into spending more time with them.

Manipulation in the name of emotional intelligence is not emotional intelligence.

In March 2023, Time Magazine published an article titled, “Gaslighting, Narcissist, and More Psychology Terms You’re Misusing,” that details 10 therapy terms being misused by the public.

“Doing so ‘can dilute the meaning of the words themselves, and we know that words have power,’ says Naomi Torres-Mackie, a psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and head of research at the Mental Health Coalition, a nonprofit that aims to end stigma around mental health. ‘If we’re very quick to throw labels on something, it can derail nuanced, important conversations, and create this idea of an assumed meaning,’” according to Time Magazine.

The term “gaslight” has wiggled its way into social media trends, popular song lyrics and even your roommate’s weekly fight with his girlfriend, so there is no surprise it was named Merriam-Webster’s 2022 Word of the Year.

Time Magazine describes how gaslighting has a much more serious meaning, than the widely accepted idea that someone refuses to take responsibility for their actions. “True gaslighting” is when someone truly makes you question your mental stability and sanity.

“This language creeps significantly into relationship dynamics and, unfortunately, is often used carelessly, excitedly, and with excessive conviction, while lacking depth of understanding,” as described in Neo’s article in MindBodyGreen.

Talking about mental health to combat stigmatization and spread awareness is great, now let’s just make sure we’re doing it properly.