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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Jonah Hill: the rise and (pit)fall of therapy-speak

I wonder – ‘trauma-dumping’, ‘triggered’, ‘toxic’, and ‘boundaries’ – are these phrases familiar to you?

From Prince Harry’s memoir to self-care TikToks, this kind of vocabulary is becoming increasingly prevalent online, and even seeping into friendships, dating, and workplaces. Therapy-speak is language that used to be confined to clinical settings, but it’s now entered into mainstream conversations – whether or not professionals would recognise its usage.

And the actor Jonah Hill has dominated online discourse this month after his ex-girlfriend published messages allegedly from Hill asserting ‘his boundaries’. The viral texts have raised alarm bells about the weaponising of therapy-speak and misuse of language for control and cruelty.  

However, without getting too bogged down with the pros and cons of the increasing prevalence of therapy-speak, let’s zoom out and be curious. What might it tell us about the state of people’s hearts and minds?

Perhaps it’s an indication of the increasing awareness of mental fragility, matched with an ache for healing? The heartbreaking reality of a mental health crisis, particularly faced by young people, is common knowledge, and the world’s antidote is the gospel of self-care. ‘Love-yourself’ and ‘set your boundaries’ are both another way of saying ‘put yourself first’. The world’s answer to fragility is to turn inward, to look to the self for survival and a route to flourishing.

To be clear, as a recipient of therapy, I’m an advocate. I’ve found this and other self-care practices to be incredibly restorative. However, in my experience of healthy boundary setting or talking therapies, I’ve found the most transformation when I have directed them beyond simply my own wellbeing and towards formation into the character and likeness of Jesus.

To rely only on yourself for healing is a lot of weight to carry. Jesus’ antidote to fragility is not the self, but instead self-denial. Neither discarding nor idolising ourselves, but looking to him to be restored and renewed into true Christlikeness – ‘whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it’ (Matthew 16:25).

So, what might it look like for you to live for Jesus amidst friendships dominated by therapy-speak?

The wonderful, good news is that the love of God is the route to flourishing and the antidote to fragility. On fragile frontlines, we’re invited to demonstrate that kingdom vision, operating within healthy boundaries but still serving and giving ourselves away to others.

Emma Sowden
Being Human Project Coordinator, Evangelical Alliance



  1. Sadly, faith-speak can also be weaponised, often by well-meaning Christians. “You need more faith, then you would overcome” whatever it is, often clinical depression. Or in my case, once when in a depressive state, “It’s because you aren’t doing anything for the Lord”.

    By Chris Couchman  -  21 Jul 2023
  2. Very perceptive, the issue is surely that it is all focused on the god of this age – ‘ME’

    By Keith Bunker  -  21 Jul 2023
  3. Nice reflection Emma, thank you. Did you watch Jonah Hill’s film Stutz? What did you think of he therapy in that?

    By Tim Yearsley  -  21 Jul 2023
  4. Emma, thanks so much for these thoughts. Helpful and much appreciated.

    By Matthew Lowe  -  21 Jul 2023
    • A very helpful article and a needed discussion, so thank you Emma. ‘Boundaries’ is such an important aspect in our mental health. Navigating our Boundaries as a Christian is what Emma has raised. A book I have gone back to time and time again is Boundaries by Dr Henry Cloud, an American Clinical Psychologist who writes from a Christian perspective.

      By Debbie  -  22 Jul 2023
  5. Well said indeed; it has long concerned me that our use of language in telling our story is (often dangerously) instrumental in how we then interpret our experience, reinforcing a single perspective and often thereby judging or marginalising others.
    How come we seem to have managed without most ‘therapy’ options in days gone by ?!

    By Sheila Walker  -  21 Jul 2023
  6. Thank you Emma for highlighting the benefits and limitations of ‘self-help’ and therapy and the importance of setting boundaries (no casting of pearls before swine here!). As you say “the love of God is the route to flourishing and the antidote to fragility”. As God builds His Kingdom on earth, we have the unique privilege, through intimacy with the Holy Spirit, to apprehend and share the peace of God that passes understanding, irrepressible joy and unconditional love. In every sense, Jesus is the Saviour for whom every human heart yearns.

    By Peter Riley  -  21 Jul 2023
  7. This is so helpful. Thank you.

    By Susan Goodwin  -  21 Jul 2023
  8. I think the proliferation of labelled boxes of psychological conditions that the psychiatric establishment has created, has led to people judging themselves to be in a particular box and to being categorized by others as well as the medical establishment. That makes it difficult for troubled people to move on. The wisdom of the bible is mainly what is needed.

    By P. Stanton  -  21 Jul 2023
  9. Thank you Emma for analysing current trends in people-think and speak that are influencing thinking both inside and outside the church – and, as you write, tending to turn people inwards. A good read!

    Two things come to heart and mind:
    1. What is our response to people laying bare their brokenness, especially people we know? Embarrassment? Compassion? Annoyance? Intercession? Anger?

    I’m sure for all of us it may be a mixture of any of these reactions or more, but in thinking through our reactions, let’s never lose sight of our own brokenness that keeps us close to Jesus and gives us a love for the ‘unlovely’ even those who are self-absorbed and hard to understand, especially if we know them! .

    2. Counsellors, chaplains and others who train with Waverley Abbey College (formerly CWR) learn and apply, to good effect and understanding, about God’s love and transformation for the whole person, in what is called, The Waverley Integrated Framework (WIF).

    As an educator for many years and in my formative Christian years aged 17 onward, influenced by Selwyn Hughes (founder of CWR) through Every Day With Jesus and his unwrapping of the Bible in courses to teach about God’s plan for developing the whole person and in their relationships, was (and still is) a powerful voice in the Church today
    (Churchworks Well-Being Conference at Westminster Chapel, May 2023).

    As I trained and eventually taught children of all ages, the powerful imagery drawn from Selwyn’s teachings, of developing the whole person, I absorbed into my life and vocation in teaching – children of all ages – 1975-2017.

    I was also undoubtedly influenced by The Plowden Report (1967) with Plowden’s sound emphasis on the education and development of the whole child.

    I mention these details as, from my lens and experiences in life, drawing out children’s gifts and talents includes developing their affective as well as their cognitive abilities, indeed progress in one can spur on growth in the other – part of God’s amazing design! And balance. BUT this is not a popular view as cognitive development as seen measured purely by academic attainment is what drives education policy.

    Both cognitive and affective areas too, affect and are affected by a child’s spiritual development. Schools in England and Wales are still required to provide evidence of spiritual development in children – not just through religious education.

    The titles and contents of two books, to me, encapsulate the ongoing imbalance in views on the value and place of cognitive and affective development:

    The Dangerous Rise in Therapeutic Education (2009) Ecclestone, K and Hayes, D and Education By Numbers (2007) Mansell, W.

    From my experience last year training
    part-time and on line as a contemporary chaplain with Waverley Abbey College, the leadership and courses there are equipping people to minister the love of God to people lost or trapped in the swamp of
    ‘therapy speak’ such as you refer to in your article.

    My conclusions therefore are, let’s not ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’ by seeing ‘therapy-speak’ as bad.

    Also, an alarm bell rang just as I was finishing reading your article. As someone who was gullibly subject to subtle spiritual and emotional abuse that grew into overt spiritual, emotional, physical abuse and coercive control (1973-1996) for which yes, I needed therapy (!!) guarding our hearts with all diligence for out of them flow the issues of life (paraphrase Prov 4:23) does indeed involve setting boundaries – alongside transparency before God and trusted friends and leaders, on motives.

    A great article Emma, thanks for provoking my own thinking and writing on this Friday morning in late July.

    By Dr Elizabeth Day  -  21 Jul 2023
  10. I just read Tim Keller’s very short book “The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness”, written about 10 years or so ago I think, so what he writes about isn’t directly related to this issue, but seems to be to be pretty close. Keller emphasizes the importance of what he calls God’s verdict, which includes being valuable and important (why/how he says that is better said by him, and hopefully the book is as readily available in the UK as it is in the USA from sources like AbeBooks)

    By Gary Nielsen  -  21 Jul 2023
  11. Before the rail system allowed fast and cheap travel and industrialisation split work from home people lived and worked in communities where there would be trusted elders and the village parish priest. If you felt troubled they would be there as counsellors. Now professional counsellors fill that role and if you can find one that understands you therapy can lead to healing and wholeness. However the downside is when it is assumed therapy can replace friendship and deep relationships, it can become narcissistic and focused just on self.

    By David  -  21 Jul 2023
  12. Thought provoking read. Thanks Emma

    By Jane  -  28 Jul 2023
  13. Fascinating, illuminating, thoughtful. Thanks for article and responses.

    By Douglas Holt  -  31 Jul 2023

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