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The Words We Use Matter – Communicate Simply and Effectively

The article that prompted this post was written to therapists about how much professional jargon they might use with a client that could be misunderstood. As someone who has worked in legal tech consulting and training, I’m certainly familiar with the struggle to communicate without resorting to what we might consider “insider” language.

In my world, it’s avoiding acronyms and tech jargon like metadata, PST, or load file without ensuring that the people I’m speaking to understand what those things mean. For example, some of you might not know what I’m referring to because it’s out of context for this audience.

The same thing happens in mental health and psychology. As we read in Psychology Has a Language Problem, and It Could Hurt Clients, the author uses a couple of examples, such as the word attachment, which has a specific meaning when talking about attachment theory but also has a more generic meaning outside of that topic. Or the older woman who was asked about self-harm or hurting herself and responded that it was a big concern for her. Of course, she meant the danger of falling and hurting herself. That’s not what the therapist was asking about.

For some of us who have been around the mental health space for a while and have tried to educate ourselves about our struggles or the struggles of our friends and loved ones, it can also be easy to fall into the same trap. We throw around words like narcissism, bipolar, gaslighting, or PTSD without stopping to consider whether the people we are saying them to understand them the same way we do. (This is a problem well beyond mental health, too, we throw a lot of words around without taking the time to make sure the people hearing them use those words to mean the same thing.) This can cause problems. The people we are trying to support may not feel supported when we toss out a few words and assume we all understand the words the same way.

It’s vital that we not only consider what we say but take the extra time to make sure that the listener understands what we say. As a trainer, I had to learn how to say the same thing in a couple of different ways and then engage the students in a dialog to make sure that the most critical information didn’t get lost in a sea of industry jargon. It might take a little longer, but it was worth it.

When it comes to the mental health of our loved ones, there is nothing more important than ensuring we communicate our support for them. It would be a shame if they didn’t feel it because we used a lot of mental health jargon instead of having more extended conversations with them. Take the time. They are worth it.

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