3 Phrases a Therapist Loves to Hear (and 3 You Should Avoid)

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When it comes to the very complex topic of mental health, it can be difficult to know the “right” things to say (or the things we should avoid saying, for that matter). That’s why we checked in with Talkspace therapist Dr. Rachel O'Neill, LPCC-S, for the words and phrases she loves to hear—plus a few that she’d rather not.

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1. Say ‘I need to take care of myself right now.’

According to Dr. O’Neill, “It is important to set aside time to care for yourself and it is okay to be transparent about the need for self-care.” There’s no shame in prioritizing your mental wellbeing, and the more we talk about it, the more the stigma surrounding not being OK starts to dissipate.

2. Say ‘I am struggling.’

“Often, it can be hard to admit to pain or vulnerability,” Dr. O’Neill admits. “However, making others aware of how you are feeling can be an important first step in asking for help.” Especially if you’re someone who prides themselves on having it all together (whatever that means), being open and honest about the fact that you’re struggling can seem impossible. It’ll take a bit of bravery to open up, sure, but the end result will be so worth it.

3. Say ‘I’m feeling this way right now, but I know this feeling won’t last forever.’

Dr. O’Neill tells us that acknowledging how you’re feeling can be a helpful way to practice accepting your own emotions. “Additionally, it can also be helpful to recognize the transient nature of our feelings—which can allow a perspective that, as uncomfortable as a feeling is, it will pass,” she adds.

4. Don’t say ‘I shouldn’t feel this way.’

When we judge our emotions and tell ourselves that we shouldn’t feel a certain way, Dr. O’Neill stresses, we’re doing ourselves a disservice in two ways: “Not only does this serve to invalidate our feelings, but it also may prolong our pain by complicating our response to it.” Again, acceptance of yourself and your emotions is key.

5. Don’t call yourself crazy

“This word often carries with a significant amount of pain and stigma,” Dr. O’Neill says. “In the past, it has been used to pathologize complex conditions, and can certainly lead individuals to avoid seeking treatment for their problems for fear of being labeled as such.” Other similar words to avoid are psycho, psychotic, insane and more.   

6. Don’t call yourself any diagnosis you haven’t received

‘Omg, I’m so OCD.’ ‘I’ve been acting so bipolar lately.’ Unless you’ve been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder by a licensed professional, it can be super harmful to refer to yourself as such. Just because your mood fluctuated today doesn’t mean you have bipolar disorder and just because you get mad when your spouse doesn’t clean the refrigerator to your liking doesn’t mean you have obsessive compulsive disorder. According to Dr. O’Neill, identifying yourself (or others, of course) by conditions you don’t have can minimize the pain and struggles associated with actually having any of these conditions.

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sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...