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This article is about the neologism. For the Frou Frou song, see Details (album). For the Alan Parsons Project song, see Eye in the Sky (album).

Psychobabble (a portmanteau of "psychology" or "psychoanalysis" and "babble") is a form of speech or writing that uses psychological jargon, buzzwords, and esoteric language to create an impression of truth or plausibility. The term implies that the speaker or writer lacks the experience and understanding necessary for the proper use of psychological terms. Additionally, it may imply that the content of speech deviates markedly from common sense and good judgement.

Some buzzwords that are commonly heard in psychobabble have come into widespread use in business management, motivational seminars, self-help, folk psychology, and popular psychology.

Frequent use of psychobabble can associate a clinical, psychological word with meaningless, or less meaningful, buzzword definitions. Laypersons often use such words when they describe life problems as clinical maladies even though the clinical terms are not meaningful or appropriate.

Most professions develop a unique vocabulary which, with frequent use, may become commonplace buzzwords. Professional psychologists may reject the "psychobabble" label when it is applied to their own special terminology.

The allusions to psychobabble imply that some psychological concepts lack precision and have become meaningless or pseudoscientific. Science demands the testing of ideas in experiments whose results are repeatable. In this context and since the scientific method is generally replaced by inductive reasoning in psychology, it does not qualify as a science.


Psychobabble was defined by the writer who coined the word, R.D. Rosen,[1][2] as

a set of repetitive verbal formalities that kills off the very spontaneity, candour, and understanding it pretends to promote. It’s an idiom that reduces psychological insight to a collection of standardized observations that provides a frozen lexicon to deal with an infinite variety of problems.[3]

The word itself came into popular use after his 1977 publication of Psychobabble: Fast Talk and Quick Cure in the Era of Feeling.[4]

Rosen coined the word in 1975 in a book review for The Boston Phoenix, then featured it in a cover story for the magazine New Times titled "Psychobabble: The New Language of Candor."[5] His book Psychobabble explores the dramatic expansion of psychological treatments and terminology in both professional and non-professional settings.

In 2010, Theodore Dalrymple defined psychobabble as "the means by which people talk about themselves without revealing anything."[6]

Likely contexts[edit]

Certain terms considered to be psychological jargon may be dismissed as psychobabble when they are used by laypersons or in discussions of popular psychology themes. New Age philosophies, self-help groups, personal development coaching, and Large Group Awareness Training are often said to employ psychobabble.

The word "psychobabble" may refer contemptuously to pretentious psychological gibberish. Automated talk-therapy offered by various ELIZA computer programs produce notable examples of conversational patterns that are psychobabble, even though they may not be loaded with jargon. ELIZA programs parody clinical conversations in which a therapist replies to a statement with a question that requires little or no specific knowledge.

"Neurobabble" is a related term. Beyerstein (1990)[7] wrote that neurobabble can appear in "ads [that] suggest that brain 'repatterning' will foster effortless learning, creativity, and prosperity." He associated neuromythologies of left/right brain pseudoscience with specific New Age products and techniques. He stated that "the purveyors of neurobabble urge us to equate truth with what feels right and to abandon the commonsense insistence that those who would enlighten us provide at least as much evidence as we demand of politicians or used-car salesmen."


Psychobabble terms are typically words or phrases which have their roots in psychotherapeutic practice. Psychobabblers commonly overuse such terms as if they possessed some special value or meaning.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is but one significant source of psychobabble. [8] The psychobabble use of terms from this manual waxes and wanes, although the actual incidence of mental disorders does not vary significantly over time. Misuse or misapplication of the DSM can be seen when a person "diagnoses" themselves or others based on behaviors, thoughts or feelings that are well within the range of normal variability in healthy individuals. For example, someone who is very organized or who has exceptional attention to detail may be described as being OCD (having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Quite to the contrary, these can be highly advantageous personality traits and do not, in and of themselves, represent a disorder. Furthermore, exhibiting some personality traits that are similar to a bona fide disorder, does not represent a mild form of the disorder, but rather no disorder at all. These personality traits do not rise to the level of a disorder until they significantly impair a person's functioning. [9]

Psychobabble may also take the form of equivocation, where a word is used inconsistently with regard to its definition. For example, in 2013 writer Deepak Chopra drew various criticism by his assertion that "consciousness may exist in photons" and "The Gaia hypothesis says nature does have a mind, that the globe is conscious." [10] Here, Chopra enjoys the notoriety of the term "consciousness" as it is used variously in psychology, medicine and philosophy, lending a sense of legitimacy and academicality to his assertions. However, he uses the term in a way that is inconsistent with its definitions in these various fields. This is to say that there is no mechanism known or proposed by which these entities could perceive the world or their own existence, and further is no mechanism known or proposed by which they could make this perception known or observable.

Rosen has suggested that the following terms often appear in psychobabble: co-dependent, delusion, denial, dysfunctional, empowerment, holistic, meaningful relationship, multiple personality disorder, narcissism, psychosis, self-actualization, and synergy.

Extensive examples of psychobabble appear in Cyra McFadden's satirical novel The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County.[11] In his collection of critical essays, Working with Structuralism (1981), the British scholar and novelist David Lodge gives a structural analysis of the language used in the novel and notes that McFadden endorsed the use of the term.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Psychobabble - Richard Dean Rosen". Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  2. ^ "Psychobabble dictionary definition - psychobabble defined". Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  3. ^ "The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations". Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Rosen, R.D. (1977). Psychobabble: Fast Talk and Quick Cure in the Era of Feeling (1st ed.). New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-10775-7. 
  5. ^ Compare: Hallenstein, Craig B. (February 1978). "Ethical problems of psychological jargon" (PDF). Professional Psychology (American Psychological Association) 9 (1): 111–116. ISSN 0735-7028. Retrieved 2010-01-31. RD Rosen (1975) pointed to the tyranny of 'psychological patter' in his article 'Psychobabble: The New Jargon of Candor.' 
  6. ^ Dalrymple, Theodore (2010). Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality. Gibson Square Books Ltd. p. 140. ISBN 1-906142-61-0. 
  7. ^ Beyerstein, B.L. (1990). "Unvalidated Fringe and Fraudulent Treatment of Mental Disorders". International Journal of Mental Health 19 (3): 27–36. 
  8. ^ "PTSD, DSM-5, and Forensic Misuse". Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  9. ^ "Personality Disorders & Personality Traits". Psych Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Steven Salzberg (24 November 2013). "Deepak Chopra Gets Upset, Tries The Harvard Gambit". Forbes. Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  11. ^ McFadden, Cyra (2000-04-05). The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County. Prion Books. ISBN 978-1-85375-383-1. 
  12. ^ Lodge, David (1981). Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature. Boston: Routledge & K. ISBN 0-7100-0658-6. 


  • Ganz, Richard L. Psychobabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology and the Biblical Alternative, 1993, 1st edition, Crossway Books, ISBN 978-0-89107-734-3.

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