There may be some method in the madness otherwise known as therapy jargon or therapy lingo. A professor once relayed an anecdote about a patient who exhibited reckless behavior. Part of the therapy was coming to terms with predictability and safe decisions. My professor purposely used overused suggestions, such as, “the early bird gets the worm” during the therapy.
A frank conversation about the therapist’s use of aged expressions sparked a breakthrough. It provided an opportunity for the therapist to point out that some things are “tried and true” and can be trusted. Some things are predictable and safe. So, there’s no need for alternatives or (in other cases) reckless behavior.
Brushing off the dust from that memory gave me the idea to consider therapist lingo. I thought, “What are some common sayings therapists use?” And, how can I convince readers not to judge a book by its cover, and consider the hidden gems between lines of the seemingly banal words.
Common Sayings Therapists Use
They say when you smile, the world smiles with you. It works. A smiling face is often met with a smile. Likewise, a scowl or menacing glance invites fear, confusion, and defense.
Some of these sentiments have “passed the test of time” because of their inherent truths. Therefore, using “overused” tokens of thought are highly valuable in therapy. Sure, you’ve heard it a thousand times but its truth is worth that a million times over.
What Do You Think It Means?
Wait. Aren’t you paying your therapist to tell you things? Well, it’s a collaborative effort. Therefore, a therapist may have several reasons for turning the question back around. For example, it slows down the pace of conversation and makes a person reflect. Therapy is about fostering growth. So, exploring what you think about something can help your therapist help you.
So Bring Me Up to Speed
Making a good connection with your therapist facilitates positive outcomes. Trust is a huge element, and part of trusting someone is believing they are present when you’re trying to communicate with them. ‘Bringing someone up to speed’ insinuates they’re debriefed on a specific topic.
Or, perhaps even more telling, it debriefs them on what’s most important to you at the moment or since the last discussion. Therapists have limited time. So, exploring what’s most important (or most important at the moment) builds trust and equals time well spent.
How’s That Working for You?
This has full Dr. Phil vibes written all over it but I’m pretty sure the sentiment predates the popular doctor. It’s similar to asking someone what they think something means. But, this question makes a person consider the consequences, which could involve behaviors, feelings, people, etc.
Therefore, the question serves well in indicating how a person internalizes consequences, and it can be a great springboard for opening up the conversation and promoting healing. It’s also a great way to link consequences to actions. I reverse engineer things all the time. I feel lazy and out of energy because I didn’t go to the gym. So, the next time I consider not going, I ask how that’s working out (no pun intended) for me.
So, What You’re Saying Is…
This may be equally helpful for the therapist, for the echoed response provides the therapist with the confidence in knowing they understood their client as well as lets the client know they are being heard, that someone really is listening. It’s also an effective tool couples and families can bring home with them. Relationships are fueled by good communication!
Sometimes, clients stop talking or think such a gesture necessitates a break in dialogue. I think this is just a natural response in letting the speaker know a counselor is listening. Also, if you think of listening to dialogue as reading words on a page, an “MmmmHmmm” (thoughtfully nods head) may just be a cognitive necessity for the listener, serving as a break and giving the brain a second to consider what’s been said as new information comes in.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Well, some days it feels like a butterfly’s wings can create a hurricane as we make a “mountain out of a molehill.” We all have our own version of what is and what is not a big deal. But, layering on some perspective can help in therapy.
Sometimes, sweating the small stuff is just a way to stall or an opportunity to experience feelings of anger, depression, regret, etc. about something else other than the real cause. In other cases, a person may feel like they need to sweat or worry about…anything as a way of dealing with feelings of anxiety.
You Can’t Control the Situation But You Can Control Your Reaction
Some things are beyond our control… and it can be incredibly distressing and enraging to acknowledge that. However, we do have control of how we react to situations, and we can work towards being our ‘best selves’ so that when situations do arise, we can look back without regret. Acknowledging that we do have control (of ourselves) is just as empowering as it is distressing to feel helpless in our inability to control outcomes.
It’s normal to think in terms of outcomes, such as winning a game, having someone love us back, or getting the job we want. However, much of the self is built upon how we respond, whether that means winning or losing, being loved or not, or getting the job or another. It’s not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game that matters.
Nothing Good Comes Easy
Maybe the reality is more like you need to be willing to work for the things you want. Sure, some of us are “born with a silver spoon…” but most of us need to put in effort to attain a career, a place to live, a person to love, things to enjoy, etc. The generality of the sentiment makes it widely applicable. If something doesn’t come easy, then it’s implied that it requires effort. We all can work towards something.
Since we’re all wired differently, we require effort for different things at different points in our lives. For example, in one’s depraved childhood, a person may learn the value of hard work and the fortunes it affords. As an older person, they may need to place more effort in appreciating the things in life that money cannot afford, such as intimacy, relationships, etc. So, the “good” we’re pursuing, and what comes easy or seems difficult, changes throughout our lives.
Feelings Aren’t Fact
Well, when you consider the love you feel for your family members and friends, feelings sure are real. However, remembering that unlike things we can all experience in the same way (like seeing lightning strike a tree) or communally agree upon (red is spelled r-e-d in English), feelings are largely personal and subjective. Others recognize feelings such as love, hate, joy, and despair, but what we consider to be so and how powerful emotions feel are largely personal.
Therefore, the sentiment is a great way to remind us that others may internalize things differently but it doesn’t change what has happened. This is a powerful gesture in family therapy, for the reality of what happens in a household is objective yet the feelings, opinions, and (sometimes) recollection of the past remains subjective.
Therapist Lingo, Jargon, and Terms
You come to therapy for a better sense of understanding, so you don’t want to strain your brain trying to get the 411 on therapist lingo. Here is a list of some acronyms and buzzwords associated with an LPCC (licensed professional clinical counselor).
DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy)
DBT helps people stay in the moment in dealing with thoughts, emotions, and other people. It’s a modified form of cognitive therapy. It can be used to help people with personality disorders as well as those dealing with anxiety related to PTSD or other trauma.
TIC (Trauma Informed Care)
TIC is fully aware of the wide range of trauma and the physical, psychological, and spiritual impact it can have on a person. TIC seeks to recognize symptoms, cope with triggers, and find pathways to recovery and wellness. Trauma informed care treats trauma related to abuse and neglect.
Psychosomatic practices recognize the connection between external factors (weather, job satisfaction, population of city) with one’s internal health (blood pressure, frequency of headaches, ability to fend-off common colds). So, don’t kill your therapist for recognizing a psychosomatic response. It just means that there could be a relation between how you’re feeling (or how your body’s reacting) and your surroundings.
EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy)
Our lives are filled with interactions and emotions attached to those experiences. EFT lends the respect those emotions deserve. And, when it comes to couples and families, understanding the emotional development and response of others becomes productive. It helps people understand one another, explores expectations, and fosters improved relationships.
A few short years ago, it was perfectly sane to stand amongst a room full of people without a mask. However, things have changed and continue to change. The pandemic is a larger metaphor for what a person can personally experience, whether that relates to being a survivor of an attack or someone who feels unsafe in large crowds. It’s important for therapists to make their clients feel they are somewhere safe, with set boundaries that respect the client’s rights.
It’s such a loaded word. What does it mean to be too attached or detached from people, situations, etc? Well, the early researchers of psychoanalysis thought our attachment styles stem from childhood.
So, a child who has their needs met and feelings validated will grow up to develop healthy relationships, while those with lesser-than experiences are met with complications in forming bonds. Understanding the past can be incredibly effective in recognizing patterns of thought and behavior, and when necessary, helping in forming healthier thoughts and behaviors.
IPP (Infant Parent Psychotherapy)
IPP is a relationship-based treatment designed to improve the parent-child relationship. The goal is to create a strong bond from the age of infancy with the mother, father, caregiver, etc. It is used to ensure the mental health of infants as they further develop and aids in preventing mental health problems in the young or within their families.
Common Terms Exist in Therapy for a Reason
What have you heard that seems overused and outdated? No one wants to hear the same old record, yet Jimi Hendrix once quoted, “knowledge speaks and wisdom listens.” In my experience, some common things therapists say have been around a long time for very good reasons. Why would we need different lingo? If it ain’t broke…
Assistant Clinical Director
Lesley McKinney, LPCC, is the Assistant Clinical Director at Sage Neuroscience Center, and an individual therapist. Lesley has been foundationaly trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and loves working with individuals who have struggled to find success in therapy. In her non-work time, she enjoys being with her two kids, husband, friends, and family. She is completing a Masters in Healthcare Administration to continue to work on improving access to mental health care to her home state of New Mexico.