The Power of Language in Therapy and Recovery

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

The power of language, to the language of power. Though not an entirely untouched subject within the field of psychiatry and psychology, it certainly is not amplified enough, or given adequate attention by mental health professionals. The way in which we talk to people currently suffering with mental health is incredibly important, and can often by the make or break of their recovery process. There is a saying that the more you say something to someone, the more they believe it. And I couldn’t resonate personally with this more.

I’ve had an incredibly emotional and verbally abusive relationship with persons to remain unnamed for many years now - since the dawn of my anorexia. What was deemed as a condition that is ‘too difficult to deal with’, I watched the steel doors come down and the blinkers put on as I spiralled into ill health mentally and physically. Fast forward to my recovery process from the grips of anorexia’s claws, and into a realm of weight restoration coupled with gastric damage causing involuntary vomiting, I was met with words sorer than a blister in a platform shoe 3 sizes too small.

Disgusting pig. Selfish brat. Whore. Ugly girl. Fucking stupid bitch. I won’t go on. Because I’m sure just those five examples are sufficient enough. The point I am making here is that when someone is already unwell, particularly with something such as anorexia - whereby the brain is actually starved, thus leading to loss of cognitive reflection, introspection, awareness and the ability to rationalise - when you input this ingredients into the mixer: it’s a recipe for disaster.

Instead of saying you are an anorexia, you should say “you currently have anorexia”. Instead of saying “you are bulimic”, all you need say is your’e currently dealing with bulimia, and that’s ok”. Instead of belittling someone for having an addiction to something like gambling, food, drugs or alcohol, you say “you’re going through a difficult time with addiction, but your’e not an addict, and it definitely doesn’t define you”. It is with this positive reinforcement and reminding that the individual themselves can begin to believe this isn’t their identity, this isn’t their final destination, and better things are to come.

All of us have a basic need to maintain the integrity of the self, a global sense of personal adequacy. Events that threaten our independence and only result in either a rapid or gradual accumulation of stress, followed swiftly by and self-protective defences that largely hinder performance and growth. However, with something as simple as self-affirmations, we can halt these negative outcomes. Self-affirmation interventions typically have people write about core personal values, though just saying them out loud to yourself is often enough to distract negativity, and deploy positivity: distract and deploy. Short, personally meaningful and optimistic verbalisations bring about a more expansive view of the self, enlightening the sufferer to the goods as opposed to the bad, and highlighting the bountiful prospectives of recovery. Integrity is our honour and honesty, our uprightness and participation into society beneficially. So to have timely affirmations that are treated almost like a routine in our typical working/living day is essential to engrain positive behaviours and target those moments where we are at our most vulnerable. The more one uses, write, says and acts on their self-affirmations, the greater the long lasting benefits - such as becoming more flexible and spontaneous, more conscious of their actions; adaptive in their potentials, and experimental in their once rigid belief systems that were classed as disordered. Repetition builds habit, and habit leads to change - and when the intervention is something so simple… it should be our first landing spot when engaging in therapy with patients - of all disorders.

With the promotion of positive behavioural change, the patients recovery will be more of a positive trajectory than not. It will prevent dependence on others by engaging subconscious independence and reinstating individuality. Let’s stop making therapy so complicated, and whittle it back to the basics.



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©2019 by Lait Mylk