Psychobabble (jargon)

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This article is about jargon. For the internet forum, see Psycho-Babble_(virtual_community).

Psychobabble is a pejorative term applied to jargon from the field of psychology, intended to imply that the jargon means little of consequence. It can be used to imply that a specific usage of jargon is not meaningful -- for instance, when a legitimate term from mainstream psychology is being mis-applied by non-professionals -- or it can be used to imply that the jargon itself is meaningless, especially when the jargon comes from popular psychology rather than mainstream psychology.

On a different scale, the term psychobabble may also disparagingly refer to grandiloquent but allegedly empty jargon or buzzwords with a psychological tinge. This is a use of the term that is internal; that is, those who practice psychology of one form or another are typically those who would use it in this fashion.


Basis of the term

As with any self-respecting jargon, practitioners find these shorthand usages normal and useful, referring to valid concepts; thus they are very likely to reject the label of "psychobabble." But the vagueness inherent in many psychological concepts also permits the use of "real" terminology in ways that may seem inappropriate to others. Some who are accused of psychobabble suspect that this may be because certain concepts of psychology themselves so lack precision as to become meaningless, and that true believers only frown upon psychobabble because it represents use by non-practitioners. This is one of the key points of the argument that psychology is not a science. Science demands that ideas be testable, that experimental results be repeatable, that ideas that fail this regime be discarded. The very phrase "certain concepts of psychology themselves so lack precision" is manifestly un-scientific.

Example paragraph

Users of psychological jargon argue that critics have invented the term "Psychobabble" as a defense against the critics' own deep, repressed fears and traumas. By attacking and undermining the whole language of personal exploration, the critics attempt to ensure that the time when they may have to acknowledge these parts of their own psyches gets pushed into the distant future.

Critics would probably reject this argument -- because to them, it is psychobabble.


The term dates from the 1960s, the era of origin of popular widespread analysis and of counselling groups. It was coined by science fiction writers Walt Richmond in 1961 at Milford, Pennsylvania at Arrowhead. (disputed)

Groups prone to its use

Sources that are often suggested to be using psychobabble include the phraseology of New Agers, self-help groups, personal development coaching and LGATs (Large Group Awareness Training).

Any of the various Eliza computer programs excel at producing psychobabble.

Compare with

  • Buzzwords - Jargon words commonly used in managerial, technical, administrative, and political environments and overlapping with some words used in psychobabble.


Examples of concepts, words and phrases in common use that are possibly seen as psychobabble by some people. Each with a usage example and an explanation of their possible English meaning.

  • authentic
  • blocked
  • breakthrough
  • closure
  • co-dependent
  • congruence
  • empowerment
  • envision
  • facilitation - as in "I think our meeting could do with some faciliation" . Meaning an independant 3rd party needs to be present to help us stay on our agenda.
  • getting it
  • grounded
  • holistic
  • integration
  • new paradigm
  • meaningful relationship
  • self-actualization -
  • self esteem - as in "he has really low self esteem" , for someone who is self effacing or self sacrificing.
  • spaced out - as in "I'm feeling a little spaced out today", meaning I'm not really able to say how I feel.
  • stressed out
  • stuff - as in "My stuff" gets in the way of ...., meaning I experience innappropriately strong emotions around some subject which stop me thinking clearly.
  • synergy
  • transformation
  • validation
  • visioning
  • well-being
  • win-win

See also

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