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  • Writer's pictureElise Braunschweiger

Therapy Speak

And its impact on dating

Over the past few years, there’s been a rise in what’s being referred to as “therapy speak,” which is commonly understood to be the incorrect use of therapeutic or psychological jargon, typically with a prescriptive and formal tone. This type of language can be found across social media platforms and while it’s well-intentioned, the results aren’t always positive.

Therapy speak as an online trend has been percolating for a few years now, coming to a head post-covid as people talked more openly about mental health struggles online. We’re in a new age where therapists and mental health professionals are able to share information and advice on their social media platforms, increasing visibility of certain topics. This has caused an outpour of memes and recycling of this information to become more entertaining and palatable. As social media always does, it takes complex, nuanced issues and turns them into hard-hitting sound bites. That doesn’t always lead to accuracy and it’s certainly not a replacement for the personalized treatment a therapist can offer in a 1:1 client setting.  

This often comes in the form of overarching internet topics, like how to “create boundaries” or “communicate your emotional needs.” It’s chock-full of buzzwords like “gaslighting,” “weaponized incompetence,” or “narcissism.” While on face value, these seem like good topics for us to explore, there are so many voices online speaking about these issues that are not qualified to do so and ultimately, it may be causing more harm than good. 

We recently saw an excellent example of how therapy speak can negatively impact relationships with Jonah Hill, who made headlines a few months ago after using therapy speak to make unreasonable and controlling demands to his girlfriend. Specifically, Jonah Hill argued that his ex’s refusal (as a professional surfer) to stop posting photos in a bikini was a transgression of his boundaries. On the surface, advocating for your emotional needs using psychology-led language can seem like a healthy thing to do. But it becomes more insidious if this language is being leveraged to frame controlling behavior as “what’s best for my mental health.” It’s manipulative, plain and clear, whether or not he realized it. 

Moreover, it’s been argued online that some therapy speak leads to an emotionally detached, reductionist delivery of particularly sensitive information. For instance, Dr. Arianna Brandolini posted a video which offered a “friend break-up” conversation template and it received significant backlash. The cold, sterile delivery rubbed some viewers the wrong way, with comments citing that it felt more like an HR interview than it did a conversation between friends. As Dr. Brandolini clarified, this is in part because it’s meant to be a template - so yes, the video may have felt emotionally incomplete because viewers were supposed to edit it as needed. But as we’re seeing with so much of the therapy speak available online, people are not doing that editing. Instead, these 30 second clips reduce nuanced topics into one-liners or sound bites. The information is being regurgitated and telephoned and turned into memes while the well-intentioned message at its core is lost. 

Sometimes, the information we find online (which is free and easily accessible) helps us tremendously in understanding ourselves. We might find professionals sharing information on Instagram that speaks to a specific issue we’re facing, or a Reddit post which seems to take the words out of our mouths. It’s a wonderful thing to find solace and understanding in your internet peers. But it’s worth giving careful consideration to whose advice you’re taking to heart. Are they an educated expert on the topic? Are they providing space for the nuance and context that many of these conversations require? 

All in all, while the internet can be an excellent resource, we recommend speaking to a licensed therapist or mental health counselor who knows more about your unique situation and can provide the appropriate language, should you need assistance in finding it. At Conscious Connections, we aim to provide free resources, backed by research and expert-advice, in our monthly newsletter. If you haven’t already, sign up now on our homepage.

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