Therapy Speak: The problem with Jonah Hill’s “boundaries” texts

At what point does 'therapy speak' become harmful?
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From opening Instagram and instantly finding out your attachment style to a friend telling you that they don’t have the “emotional bandwidth” to get lunch, it seems therapy speak is just about everywhere.

While our fancy new lingo seems harmless, a series of Instagram stories by Jonah Hill’s ex-girlfriend Sarah Brady is sparking a conversation that psychological language is best left in our psychologist’s offices.

Watch Below: Counsellor Explains What is Wrong with the Jonah Hill Boundary Texts

The screenshots of messages alleged by Sarah to have been between the pair posted in July 2023 are said to outline Hill’s “boundaries” for his and Brady’s relationship – which include requesting Brady refrains from “surfing with men” and “posting pictures of yourself in a bathing suit”.

While Hill has not responded to the social posts to confirm or deny if the texts are actually from him, Brady is attempting to highlight the Stutz actor’s misuse of the term boundaries in the alleged exchanges, these messages have also come under fire from others as a manipulation tactic, with American counsellor Jeff Guenther (@therapyjeff) explaining in a Tik Tok: “It’s important we go over this misuse in therapy language…”

So, when is too much therapy speak a bad thing, and what are the signs others are using it as a means of control us?

What is therapy speak?

Psychologist and Headspace App Mental Health Expert Carly Dober explains therapy speak is generally formal language that describes psychological concepts and behaviours.

“Psychologists will use language like this in sessions with clients, and when communicating with other professionals,” Carly says.

Yet, as we can see from the rise of terms like “love bombing” and “gaslighting” on social media, therapy speak has become a way for everyday people to intellectualise their emotions.

“More people [are being] open about accessing therapy, sharing their journey with mental health, mental health education and campaigns increasing in effectiveness over the years,” Carly notes.

(Credit: Getty)

Can therapy speak be useful? 

According to Carly, therapy speak can be a helpful tool. “Instead of ‘ongoing sadness’ or ‘feeling crap for years’, we have the clinically valid term ‘depression’. Instead of ‘sad spells’, we have terms like ‘relapse’ that might be appropriate,” Carly says.

Despite this, Carly advises practising restraint before speaking like a therapist as conveying a diagnosis to a loved one or explaining yourself to a health professional are generally the only appropriate times to use therapy speak.

“We want to move away from armchair diagnosing of the self, and of others as it can unfortunately be uninformed, and sometimes stigmatising,” she says.

When is therapy speak manipulative? 

The messages allegedly sent by Hill say:

“If you need:

– Surfing with men

– Boundaryless [sic] inappropriate friendships with men

– To model

– To post pictures of yourself in a bathing suit

– To post sexual pictures

– Friendships with women who are in unstable places and from your wild recent past beyond getting a lunch or coffee or something respectful

I am not the right partner for you. If these things bring you to a place of happiness I support it and there will be no hard feelings. These are my boundaries for romantic partnership.

My boundaries with you based on the way these actions have hurt our trust.” 

Carly explains the use of the term “boundary” here is questionable.

(Credit: @sarahbradyy via Instagram)

“Boundaries are not meant to be used to police the behaviour of others, they are to support your own growth, limits, and development… it looked like [the sender] was delivering ultimatums disguised as healthy limits,” she explains.

“It would have been more appropriate that [the sender] says something to the effect of ‘…I get jealous/self-conscious/upset when your time is shared with others whom I see as potential sexual and romantic threats and this is really vulnerable for me to share …’.”

If someone is trying to shame or blame you, control your behaviour and how you spend your time, or if they try to overwhelm you with “clinical and sophisticated” words, Carly advises manipulation could be at play.

“If they are unable to communicate in a jargon-free way when they are not employed as a licensed mental health expert, I would be concerned,” she says.

“Even if they are a qualified mental health professional, they should be able to explain themselves and their concerns in plain language.”

What phrases should I watch out for? 

While exposure to popular psychology is valuable for most of us, Carly says to be wary of labelling everything as a mental health issue or trying to pathologize normal human experiences (and to watch out if others do the same). Phrases and words to avoid using include:

– Narcissist

– Red flags

– Gaslight

– Toxic

– Boundaries

Carly explains similar can be said for labelling experiences or people as having OCD, ADHD, Trauma, and experiencing dissociation.

“These mental health conditions have a significant impact on individuals and aren’t little ‘quirks’ and they can often prevent people from engaging in life meaningfully,” she says.

“Be mindful of engaging with mental health content on social media from people who do not have significant training, experience, and qualifications.”

Finally, if you believe you are being manipulated anyone, speak up and seek support. 

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