26 February, 2024

Mental health has become a popular topic on social media, helping reduce stigma and increase awareness around conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and autism.

But with this, terms like toxic, triggered, boundaries, and gaslighting have made their way into our everyday vocabulary.

While learning the language around our feelings can help us better identify our experiences and seek help, therapy speak can be harmful if used incorrectly.

We explore the potential risks of using therapy speak, and some of the most misused mental health terms doing the rounds online.


What is therapy speak?

Therapy speak refers to words normally used in psychology and relating to mental health.

Some of these phrases and concepts have recently become more common outside of clinical conversations, particularly on TikTok and other social media platforms.

Talking about mental health openly is important, but it’s just as important to understand the phrases and concepts and apply them correctly. This is more likely to positively contribute to shifting attitudes around mental health and seeking help when it’s needed.


Risks of Misusing Therapy Speak

Misusing and overusing mental health phrases and concepts can strip them of their true meaning.

Therapy speak can also encourage people to “armchair diagnose” themselves and the people around them of conditions they may not have.

For example, someone who simply likes to have things tidy might say:

“I’m so OCD! I need to make my bed every morning.”

This misconception can minimise and invalidate the experience of someone who has been diagnosed with OCD and understands the true symptoms of this mental health condition.

If you identify with a condition or concept you’ve heard about and want to learn more, you should speak to your GP or mental health care provider.

We explore the dangers of self-diagnosis in this blog post.


Commonly Misused Mental Health Terms

These are some of the most misused mental health terms and concepts we’re seeing online.


Narcissism is a rare personality disorder that requires a professional diagnosis.

Because one of the signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a high sense of self-importance, people use the term to label/diagnose someone they feel is selfish or arrogant.

For example:

“She posts so many selfies. She’s such a narcissist.”


Gaslighting is a serious form of emotional and psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates and controls another person by making them second-guess their reality and judgement. It’s most common in romantic relationships and can be present on its own or alongside other abuse, such as physical or verbal.

Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t automatically mean they’re gaslighting you, and misusing this word takes away from survivors’ experiences.

For example:

“My boss doesn’t think I deserve a raise. She’s gaslighting me!”


For someone with a history of trauma, a trigger refers to stimuli that reminds them of a traumatic experience and makes them feel like they’re reliving it, causing extreme overwhelm or distress.

Being triggered isn’t just about being upset, stressed out, or rubbed the wrong way by everyday inconveniences, and using the term in this context can minimise its severity for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For example:

“This traffic is crazy. I’m so triggered right now.”


While toxic isn’t a formal psychological term, in a mental health setting, it’s generally used to describe a person or behaviour that’s destructive and distressing to others.

This word is often overused online to describe any unpleasant or unwanted behaviour.

For example:

“He ate the last Tim Tam. He’s so toxic.”


Personal boundaries allow us to create expectations around what we’re willing and unwilling to engage with and how we’d like to be treated in our relationships. They’re not about controlling someone else’s behaviour but communicating what we’re comfortable with.

Someone not doing what you’d like them to do doesn’t necessarily mean they’re breaking a healthy boundary. In fact, enforcing unreasonable rules in a relationship and justifying them as “boundaries” is controlling and abusive.

For example:

“I don’t like you spending time with your friends without me there. That’s breaking my boundary.”

We explore how to set healthy boundaries in your relationship in this blog post.

Casually throwing around these complex mental health concepts in the wrong context can do more harm than good, and even add to the stigma and shame around mental illness.


If you need some extra support with your mental health, talking to a professional counsellor can help.

Our counsellors can help you explore your feelings and address underlying issues in a safe space.

You can call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment or learn more about our counselling services here.