Healing isn’t an elite club - Sarah Woodhouse

Healing isn’t an elite club

The language we’re using to talk about trauma, therapy and healing, is inaccessible and confusing.

Being new to Facebook and Instagram has been a total gift. Listening and watching with fresh eyes, has allowed me a certain amount of objectivity. As I’ve watched, I’ve had one of those moments. You know, those penny-dropping, ah-ha, lights come on, kind of moments. Because what I saw was a whole heap of confusing, specialist, jargon.

Do you know who, what and when something is toxic? Can you tell when someone is being co-dependent? Do you know when and how you project? Do you know how to do your shadow work or how to work somatically? Do you know who your inner child is? It’s totally, 100%, ok if you don’t.

When I first entered this world (the world of therapy, recovery and healing) I didn’t know what these terms meant. I actually felt really intimidated by this kind of language, and the way it was used.

I didn’t get it. I felt like there was a club that I wasn’t part of. Looking back, I can see that a lot of people using these terms were using them as life-rafts. They used them to help themselves survive and re-build a new sense of self. I get this, and I’m sure at times I’ve done the same. But I can also see that some people used these words as a way to feel better about themselves or, worse, better than others. For these people, the terms were (and possibly still are) attached to their egos. The words were used in an ‘us’ and ‘them’ way. They created a barrier.

Have you ever noticed that it takes confidence to ask questions? When I was new to all this, I didn’t ask what terms like recovery, dry-drunk or triggered meant, because I wasn’t confident enough to. Nowadays, I’m intrigued if I come across something related to healing that I haven’t heard of. I confidently ask questions. But this confidence has built-up over years.

People who are new to this world may not confidently ask questions. They’re more likely to feel intimidated. Some might even walk away from the conversations all together. I get that rising into our confidence is, in fact, an important part of growth. It’s something we should all aim for. But for someone experiencing anxiety or low-self-esteem, or for an older parent who has never been to therapy but wants and needs to get involved, this language (and the attitude surrounding it) might well cause them to walk away altogether.

The outcome of using a specialised lexicon on social media, or in the real-world, is that we end up creating clubs that consist only of people in the know. The language itself creates a barrier of access.

In the context I’m talking about, these are clubs that only talk to people who are in long-term therapy, or who’ve done their trauma work. Clubs that only talk to people in one of the twelve-step fellowships. This isn’t ok, because trauma affects us all. We all need to feel welcomed into these conversations.

Think about how it would feel if you asked a group of web developer how to create a website and they answered you using terms like backlinks, ajax and soap (no, it’s not the kind of soap you’re thinking of). These terms are used when web developers talk to each other. When they talk to other people in the know and in the web-developer club, it’s appropriate. But if they are talking to me or you, I hope they’re going to use a very different kind of language. If they don’t, we’re going to feel intimidated and overwhelmed. The words themselves would create a barrier to us getting what we came looking for.

I’m not suggesting that we use different therapy and healing terms. I’m suggesting that we’re mindful of who we’re talking to. If people are talking to others in the know, there’s no problem. But if it’s a public forum or we’re trying to communicate ideas to everyone, we need to be mindful of the effect our language might have. If you do use these kinds of words, explain what you mean or change-up your language. Is there a different, more universal, term that could be used? If you’re interested in bringing about real change, ensure you’re speaking to the person who has never been to therapy. Let them know they’re welcome.

And if you’re on the receiving end of all this complicated jargon, and you’re feeling confused or intimidated, please ask questions. If you don’t feel safe enough to ask them, ask me. Don’t let the lingo stop you from getting what you need.

I’m launching a series of posts on Instagram de-bunking therapy-speak called #therasplaining. Click here to check it out!

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Sarah Woodhouse is a trauma expert, research psychologist and writer who delivers people the knowledge and tools to recognise and overcome self-defeating cycles, to achieve personal freedom and success.

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