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The Ever-Expanding Definition of Trauma
Depression by Louise Williams via Getty Images

The Ever-Expanding Definition of Trauma

In diluting the word's meaning mental health professionals are creating a generation of victims.

· 7 min read

In his 2016 paper, “Concept creep: Psychology’s expanding concepts of harm and pathology,” psychology professor Nick Haslam addresses the ways in which psychology has become politicized through manipulations of language and terminology: “Concepts that refer to the negative aspects of human experience and behavior have expanded their meanings so that they now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before … [producing] an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm.” Such concept creep, Haslam notes, “runs the risk of pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.”

One of the best examples of this type of concept creep is the redefinition of the word “trauma.” Clinicians now use the word to describe almost any adversity.

This change in usage is driven by a specific political agenda. “Trauma” has become a useful term for mental health practitioners who are involved in social justice activism, because it makes some of their core concerns, such as social inequality, seem more threatening and alarming. It is both true and unfortunate that some people have more difficult lives than others. But if we tell such people that they are traumatized victims will that improve their mental health? And is it even true?

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