Is Therapy Speak at Play in Your Relationship?
- What is therapy speak?
- What is the purpose of therapy speak?
- How do I recognize it?
- Signs of therapy speak
- Benefits of therapy speak
- What to do if it’s harming your relationship
There are lots of buzzwords out there that stem from legitimate (but often rare) mental health conditions or personality disorders – “narcissistic [fill in the blank]”, “breadcrumbing”, and “gaslighting,” to name a few. The latest, “therapy speak,” refers to using therapy-related words and phrases on others as a communication technique.
Therapy speak can be extremely beneficial when used correctly. Sometimes, though, there is manipulation or intimidation at its core.
What is therapy speak?
“Therapy speak” is the use of therapeutic language, concepts, or techniques in everyday conversations outside of a formal therapeutic setting (like cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, support groups, etc.). It can involve therapeutic jargon (terms like "practice self-care," "set boundaries," or "process your emotions") in conversation.
What is the purpose of "therapy speak"?
Therapy speak started as a technique professionals like psychologists use to help their patients, but it has infiltrated non-clinical settings like offices, schools, and more recently, the internet.
Misuse of therapy speak is often to gain a competitive advantage or power over someone else. Bullies or “trolls” might use therapy speak to cut someone down or to shift someone’s behavior. But for this article, we’re looking at how therapy talk is used in the dating and marriage sphere – and how it can be a red flag of a toxic relationship.
How do I recognize toxic therapy talk in practice?
- Person A learns one or two psychological concepts and suddenly they think they’re an expert.
- Person A uses therapy speak on Person B to “help them” or give advice. In a negative application, Person B’s interpretation doesn’t match up, or the talk isn’t appreciated.
- Person A feels superior to Person B because they think they've got it all figured out.
- Person A believes they have condensed Person B’s problems into one or two small labels and they stop there. They’ve explained the behavior. Their work is done, and now it’s all on Person B to “fix it.”
Person A might have good intentions. With more and more people recognizing the importance of mental health, psychological concepts saturate places like social media and even the workplace. But when untrained people use words and phrases to describe mental health conditions that only a professional can diagnose, it leads to communication breakdowns. The person on the receiving end might feel hurt, confused, or unfairly judged.
Signs that therapy speak might be occurring in your relationship
Here are a few things to look for if you suspect someone is using therapy speak on you or you want to make sure you aren’t unintentionally using it with misguided intentions. All of these can be positive or negative – it’s why they are used and how they affect the relationship that determines if therapy speak in your relationship is “good” or “bad.”
Use of therapeutic words and sayings
Does one of you frequently use terms or phrases commonly associated with therapy or self-help resources (such as the ones listed above)? This might also involve talking about communication styles, attachment styles, or other psychological terms to describe your emotions or actions (“narcissist”, “bipolar”, “crazy”, “sociopath,” etc.).
Overt active listening techniques
Regularly employing active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing, reflective listening, or using "I" statements could be forms of therapy speak.
Preoccupation with self-reflection
If one or both of you put a lot of time into self-reflection, analyzing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (similar to the introspective process often encouraged in cognitive-behavioral therapy), it could inadvertently lead to therapy speak. This is especially troubling if one of you is forcing this on the other.
Frequently using “self-therapy” strategies
If you or your partner often try approaches recommended in therapy to help address a problem (breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or conflict resolution tactics), it could suggest the integration of therapy speak.
Is therapy speak always a problem in non-clinical relationships?
Short answer: no. It can actually be beneficial.
It's important to note that adopting some therapeutic language or techniques in relationships can be positive and helpful. Some possible benefits include:
If both you and your partner find it beneficial and it enhances your connection, there's no inherent problem with incorporating therapeutic elements into your relationship. But if it causes one or both of you stress or discomfort, you may need to step back and consider if you’re in an unhappy relationship dynamic.
What should I do if therapy speak is harming my relationship?
If you’ve identified that therapy speak is occurring in your relationships and it feels forced, artificial, or creates a sense of detachment or inauthenticity in your interactions, it might be worth evaluating your relationship and if it is healthy for you.
Ultimately, the impact of therapy speak in your relationship depends on your individual experiences, communication styles, and the level of comfort and authenticity you both feel. It could be helpful to discuss this with your partner and openly share your thoughts and feelings about the role of therapy speak in your relationship.
Need help communicating with your partner? We recommend the following blogs:
- Setting Boundaries if Your Spouse Treats You Like Their Therapist
- Can Marriage Counseling Save Our Marriage?
- Signs Your Spouse Might Be a Narcissist
- Types of Narcissists and Communication Tactics That Work
Have Questions About Divorce? Don't Know Where to Start?
ReferencesHow the Language of Therapy Took Over Dating. (Feb. 14, 2023). The New York Times.
7 'Therapy Speak' Terms People Get Wrong, According to Psychologists. (June 15, 2023). Health.
The Rise of Therapy-Speak. (March 26, 2021). The New Yorker.
Unpacking the Use of Therapy-Speak in Scholarly Writing. (April 2023). American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.
Benefits of talking therapies. (November 2022). NHS.com.
Work & Talk Survey Therapy Speak at Work. (May 2023). The Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice.
What Happens When Therapy-Speak Creeps Into a Relationship. (June 2023) Psychology Today.