“On the other hand, there are times, particularly with high-conflict couples, that writing rather than speaking to the other person gives them time to think about how they want to respond,” continues Dr. Geller. “Sometimes, it’s better to say something on a text message, because there’s a break between the time the person receives the message and the time the person responds. They can hit back immediately, but they can also pause and reflect. It’s rather hard when it’s face-to-face, to not respond to someone immediately.”
The Weaponization of Therapy Language
Another topic that’s arisen from this controversy has been the weaponization of therapy language. Buzzwords around behaviors and wellness can be used as a rhetorical cudgel, to dismiss and simplify rather than invite a conversation. What does it mean to “gaslight” someone? What does it mean to call someone a “narcissist”? We asked Dr. Geller about the definition of the word “boundaries” from a therapist’s perspective, and she gave us some needed clarity.
“The more accurate use of ’boundaries’ is setting my space and your space,” says Dr. Geller. “If I am talking to someone and I say, ‘I had a hard day,’ and they ask me, ‘Oh, you know, what was it about?’ And I say, ’Well, I’d rather not discuss it.’ If they insist on wanting to know, they’re crossing my boundary. I’ve already said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.'”
“So if someone were to speak like Jonah is doing here in this text conversation?” continues Dr. Geller. “He’s not talking about boundaries. He’s talking about what he wants. And he would have a right to whatever he wants in a woman, but he’s not using the term accurately.”
The Purpose of Therapy
There is a silver lining to the misuse of therapy language. It has penetrated mainstream vernacular to a pervasive degree, which means that therapy is more socially acceptable than it’s ever been. It’s no longer shameful to admit that one is seeking psychological or psychiatric help. A mental sickness can be just as, if not more, debilitating than a physical one.
“There was a time when people who were in therapy never told anybody, because it was considered a stigma,” says Dr. Geller. “It started becoming more publicly acceptable after 9/11, when we started to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder. On one hand, as someone who is a mental health professional, I am happy that people are recognizing there’s an important place in their life for therapy. On the other hand, if it’s used as a way of continuing to be the way you are — that hasn’t been working for you — then it’s a negative.”
And that, after all, is the purpose of therapy — to reflect on one’s behavior, gain awareness over it, and modify it to something healthier and more productive. Everyone has moments of weakness, where we retreat into old habits. But a good-faith effort to do better is what distinguishes a person who’s using therapy properly, from someone who’s not.
“If someone says, ‘Well, I can’t help that behavior, because my mother treated me badly, so that’s why I’m treating you badly,’ that’s just staying the same and using something you learned in therapy as a weapon,” says Dr. Geller. “You can give an explanation for your behavior. But if you say, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is,’ then you’re using therapy language as a way of maintaining the relationship as is.”
Therapy is a useful means by which a person can explore their inner self. But it needs to go beyond exploration. It needs to translate into tangible action, to make something of one’s self-discoveries.