The average licensed master’s level social worker, professional counselor, or master’s level psychologist has been in school for at least six to seven years and possesses at least a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and completed supervised work experience. Not to mention they have prepared for, taken, and successfully passed the licensure exams in the state in which they reside. The average doctoral level licensed psychologist has gone to school for at least nine to eleven years, completed several unpaid and paid internship experiences and supervised clinical practice after graduation to become licensed, and passed the licensure exams. Professionals are trained to read, understand, and correctly interpret clinical scientifically valid research for the purpose of supporting interventions to effectively help clients and pass on knowledge.

Nearly four in ten adults in the population report symptoms of persistent anxiety and depression regularly and the number of children, teens, and adults who experience lasting stress, loneliness, and mental health symptoms is on the rise. Over twenty percent of the population takes some sort of prescription medication for a mental health treatment and only ten percent have sought or received counseling. This is compounded by economic hardships, financial instability, discrimination, inequality, and lack of access to clinical care. Exacerbated by the pandemic and political unrest, over ninety percent of the population feels that the United States and the world as a whole is in the midst of a mental health and overall identity crisis. Additionally, the mental health and related medical fields face tremendous rates of compassion fatigue, burnout, high turnover, and vicarious trauma that impact providers and lead to a high demand for care and a large clinician shortage.

As a result, people often turn to self-help books or gurus, social media professionals, and pop psychology that has permeated the zeitgeist and added therapeutic terms to the social lexicon. This creates both a dark storm cloud and a silver lining in the psychological field for professionals to reconcile within ourselves. The silver lining is we are destigmatizing mental health and openly talking about how it is okay not to be okay. People are asking for help and attempting vulnerability, and this promotes connection and reduces loneliness. However, the downside of this is that people are misusing research, therapeutic terms, or lack the understanding of complex psychological diagnoses. Professionals study for years to just begin to understand the complex human experience. Psychology diagnoses are complicated and nuanced and cannot be learned in one person’s lived experiences, self-help books, or social media TikTok posts. Terms like gaslighting, narcissistic, bipolar, and boundaries are commonly used to describe past relationships that ended. If this is in an attempt to understand, that can be great, but it is commonly used to justify or excuse your one’s choices while blaming another person.
Throwing around nuanced terms without accountability and self-reflection trivializes the genuine experiences of those people who have suffered from a mental health diagnosis. This has been a reoccurring problem since people began to use terms like OCD, ADHD, “crazy or schizo” to describe the quirky habits of themselves or another individual. Ask anyone who can assess for, diagnosis, treat, or has these conditions, and they will explain it can feel demeaning or disrespectful to throw around terms with very little understanding for people who genuinely see these disorders daily in their therapy room or real life. Most people are not OCD, ADHD, autistic, or narcissists, and using these words casually in a social context as if you know that is an accurate diagnosis can be problematic. Blog posts with the title like ‘ten traits of all people with ADHD’ have been found to rarely be scientifically supported and not every person can fit into a neat little box, not to mention these are not peer reviewed scientific studies. Even experienced clinicians will consult with colleagues and other professionals about diagnoses, assessments, and interventions to ensure we are diagnosing clients correctly, because of the associations with these labels.

And even if referring to yourself and not to others, consider not using words like “narcissistic,” or telling people you “disassociate” or are “OCD” or “so ADHD” – realize having heard these terms on social media or read about them, and even if you may see some similarities in your life, that is not the same as having a professional diagnosis. These are real symptoms and diagnoses, and the people that have honestly experienced this firsthand may feel more and more isolated and misunderstood when the public uses words like this casually.

Despite some of the professionals on social media or television being actual professionals or published authors with licensure, recognize not everyone is a licensed professional or actually working in the field they are proselytizing about to the masses. Always fact check things you hear and engage in critical thinking, and if you have to process complex personality nuances or past relationship baggage then work with a professional who can help you reconcile your perspective and self-reflect to prevent unhealthy patterns from continuing. This year, set an intention to choose your words carefully and instead of labeling or ‘armchair diagnosing’ a person or a problem or yourself, choose instead to recognize that doing that can ostracize and demean not only the mental health field, but the people that genuinely struggle with these real occurrences, and can limit the meaning of these psychological terms, minimizing the legitimate impact. Remember words are powerful, and it is important to use psychological words correctly and carefully, to support all who live with mental health diagnoses.


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