What impact has psychoanalysis—or, more broadly, therapy culture—had on language? Most obviously, it has given us a variety of words that have found their way, often in vulgarised form, into common usage. “Anal,” “projection,” “identity” and “denial” all refer back to psychiatric or psychoanalytic concepts, although many people who use them probably don’t realise this. But therapy culture has also changed language in a more general way, by making people likely to favour “touchy-feely” words over ones with hard meanings. There are several examples in the past decade or so of this. Where once people spoke of their “beliefs” or “principles,” they now refer to their “values.” Where once they spoke of “questions” or “problems,” they now speak of “issues” (as in, “That’s an interesting issue you’ve raised”). Part of the attraction of a word like “values” is that, because of its fuzziness, few things follow from it. A principle or belief has to be defined—and adhered to—whereas subscribing to a set of values tends not to imply anything very much (as politicians attempting to define Britishness have discovered).
The word “issues,” interestingly, has also come to be used in another, related sense, one associated directly with therapy. People nowadays often talk of “having an issue” with something (as in, “I’ve got issues with that suggestion”). The effect, again, is softening and deflecting. If I’ve got “a problem” with a suggestion, that expresses something external and definite: I’m saying the suggestion is wrong. If I’ve got “issues” with it, that leaves open the possibility that it’s all to do with me, and the suggestion is not at fault. So instead of “addressing” the problem, I’ll simply go and “work through” my issues.