Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Psychology: Debates · Journals · Psychologists

Psychobabble is a customarily pejorative term to denote technical jargon that is used outside of its intended purpose in psychology. It implies that the speaker lacks the experience and understanding necessary for proper use of various psychological term(s). Frequent use can expand a clinical word to include less meaningful buzzword meanings. Some psychological buzzwords have come into widespread use in business management training, motivational seminars, self-help and popular psychology. These words may be over-used by lay persons in describing behavioral or emotional difficulties as clinical maladies, when such nomenclature is neither valuable, meaningful, or appropriate.

Basis of the term

The term came into popular usage following the 1977 publication of Psychobabble: Fast talk and quick cure in the age of feeling, by author and journalist R. D. Rosen, who had coined the term in 1975, when it became a cover story in New Times Magazine, titled "Psychobabble: the new language of candor." The book "Psychobabble" explores a virtual explosion of psychological treatments and terminology in both professional and non-professional settings. Psychobabble is the idea that social and personal conflicts can be better understood through the use of complex, descriptive, or special and esoteric language.

Most professional fields develop a unique terminology that, with frequent usage, becomes a jargon of buzzwords referring to recognized concepts. As such, practitioners of psychology may reject the label "psychobabble" when applied to their unique terminology. But the vagueness inherent in many psychological concepts also permits the use (and over-use) of terminology in ways that may seem inappropriate to others.

Some pejorative allusions to psychobabble imply that certain concepts of psychology themselves so lack precision as to become meaningless or pseudoscientific. Science demands that ideas be testable in experiments where results are repeatable. In this context, the term psychobabble is pejorative to the point that it may imply that the language of psychology is not based on proven concepts. In other cases, psychobabble can refer to the use of jargon to imply meanings beyond those accepted by scholars and formally trained practitioners.

Likely contexts

In some contexts, use of psychological jargon may be labeled as psychobabble because it is used by untrained individuals, or in the discussion of pop psychology themes. Language often dubbed psychobabble includes the phraseology of New Agers, self-help groups, personal development coaching and LGATs (Large Group Awareness Training).

The term psychobabble in other contexts refers disparagingly to grandiloquent but allegedly empty use of jargon with a psychological tinge. Automated talk-therapy offered by various ELIZA computer programs produce notable examples of conversational patterns that, while not loaded with jargon, can be described accurately as psychobabble. ELIZA programs parody clinical conversations in which a therapist replies to a statement with a question that requires very little specific knowledge of a topic.


Psychobabble consists of selected words and phrases with roots in psychotherapy practice & belief. These words are commonly over-used as if they possess some special esoteric value or meaning when they may or may not. (Various terms and phrases from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are but one significant source of psychobabble, as the usage of various terms waxes & wanes, while the incidence of true mental disorders doesn't vary significantly, over time.)

See also


  • The Tower Of Psychobabble, By Dr. John A. Riolo. "In psychotherapy we have our own jargon or lingo. Over time some of the terms have become household names. "
  • Ganz, Richard L. Psychobabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology and the Biblical Alternative pub. Crossway Books 1993 ISBN 0-89107-734-0
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).