Stop glamorizing therapy speak

Using psychological terminology without fully understanding the definition is harmful. | Ariana Rodriguez, PantherNOW

Ariana Rodriguez | Staff Writer

As we hit an all-time high in mental health awareness, it’s important to remind ourselves that not everyone is a licensed therapist. 

The reality is that therapy speak like “gaslighting” and “toxic” has infiltrated everyday conversations. Though rooted in psychological concepts, their casual use outside of therapy can have detrimental effects on our relationships and interpersonal dynamics.

At first glance, it may seem harmless to use these terms in everyday conversations. After all, they provide a convenient shorthand for describing complex behaviors and dynamics. 

The real danger lies in the oversimplification and misinterpretation of these terms, which can lead to misunderstanding, resentment and ultimately the erosion of trust between individuals.

Take, for example, the term “gaslighting.” Gaslighting refers to a form of psychological manipulation aimed at undermining someone’s perception of reality – coined from the 1938 film “Gaslight,” where a husband manipulates his wife into doubting her reality. 

When used professionally, this term can shed light on insidious forms of emotional abuse. 

However, its indiscriminate use to describe any form of disagreement or differing perspective can trivialize the experiences of those who have truly endured gaslighting. Labeling someone as a “gaslighter” without understanding the term can create unnecessary conflict and defensiveness, hindering genuine communication and resolution.

Imagine the harm of spreading misinformation based on peers all because of the misuse of a term. The constant use of the term can often erase the true meaning, which can lead people who are actually abused and gaslit to not come forward.

Similarly, the term “toxic” has become a catch-all descriptor for anything deemed harmful in relationships. Oftentimes, I see the term “toxic” being praised, like the toxic Latina, saying “I’m so toxic” or saying “I like my men toxic”. 

While toxicity does exist in interpersonal dynamics, its overuse can obscure the underlying complexities of human behavior and interaction. 

By labeling someone as “toxic,” we risk oversimplifying their character and dismissing the possibility of growth and change. This not only perpetuates stigma but also denies individuals the opportunity for redemption and reconciliation.

The term “toxic” has become prevalent in discussions about harmful behaviors and environments, but its usage can carry a stigma. Labeling someone or something as toxic may oversimplify complex issues, leading to judgment and blame. 

This can exacerbate feelings of guilt and shame, hindering constructive dialogue. Moreover, it may overlook systemic factors contributing to toxicity and trivialize serious situations. 

While useful for identifying harm, it’s important to use the term thoughtfully to avoid perpetuating stigma and encourage understanding and empathy.

We negotiate, persuade and influence each other in myriad ways, often with the best of intentions. By indiscriminately labeling behavior as manipulative, we fail to recognize the nuances of intention and communication, further perpetuating distrust and suspicion in our relationships.

It is crucial to acknowledge that boundaries are essential for healthy relationships, romantic or platonic. Boundaries delineate the limits of acceptable behavior and protect our emotional and physical well-being. 

However, conflating boundaries with therapy speak can create unnecessary barriers between individuals. 

While boundaries are about asserting our needs and values, therapy speak can sometimes be about assigning blame or pathologizing behavior, leading to defensiveness and alienation.

Therapy speak can create unrealistic expectations of interpersonal relationships among college students. By oversimplifying complex dynamics into black-and-white terms like “gaslighting” or “toxic,” students may struggle to navigate the nuances of human interaction and conflict resolution. 

This can lead to a reluctance to engage in open and honest communication, as individuals may fear being labeled or judged based on their behavior.

It’s essential for students to approach discussions about mental health and well-being with empathy, understanding and a willingness to engage in open dialogue, rather than relying on oversimplified language that may inadvertently harm themselves or others.


The opinions presented on this page do not represent the views of the PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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