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So much conversation and debate after yesterday’s post about trigger warnings.

Most of the commenters here and elsewhere seemed to agree that:

  1. No, trigger warnings are not, by themselves, censorship.
  2. Stephen Fry was being a complete turd cabbage in his article.

But there was discussion of whether the concept of triggers and content warnings can go too far, and if we can reach a point where it all becomes damaging. One individual pointed to an article in the Atlantic as an example that was “better informed”: The Coddling of the American Mind: How Trigger Warnings are Hurting Mental Health on Campus, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

I started trying to respond to some of the points in that article, and after 1000 words, had only gotten through the first few paragraphs. So I’m trying a different approach, and zooming in on just one of their arguments:

[T]here is a deeper problem with trigger warnings. According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided. A person who is trapped in an elevator during a power outage may panic and think she is going to die. That frightening experience can change neural connections in her amygdala, leading to an elevator phobia. If you want this woman to retain her fear for life, you should help her avoid elevators.

But if you want to help her return to normalcy, you should take your cues from Ivan Pavlov and guide her through a process known as exposure therapy.


(If you are a trained and licensed therapist, please replace the previous statement with, NO YOU SHOULD NOT, BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT HER THERAPIST!!!)

Exposure Therapy and Systematic Desensitization are processes. They’re done in a controlled environment, with preparation and planning, which includes letting the patient know what’s coming. I.e., giving them a warning.

You might as well say, “Hey, Electroconvulsive Therapy is still sometimes used to treat depression, and you’ve been feeling down, so I’m gonna plug in this toaster and drop it into the bath with you!”
Lucy: Psychiatric HelpAs someone who earned a degree in psychology, has been a rape counselor, has been in counseling, and married a license therapist, do me a favor and knock it off with the armchair psychologist crap before you seriously hurt someone.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 13th, 2016 11:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Jim.
Apr. 14th, 2016 12:44 am (UTC)
Well said.
Apr. 14th, 2016 12:46 am (UTC)

(Said the woman who also has a degree in psychology.)
Apr. 14th, 2016 01:14 am (UTC)
::Psych Degree Fistbump::
Apr. 14th, 2016 01:25 am (UTC)

Quick! Let's go run a rat through a Skinner Box :-)
Apr. 14th, 2016 12:46 am (UTC)
Ugh that's a terrible article (the Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt one). Thanks for addressing its nonsense. Great points.

It inspired me to look up a few more reactions to the article - looks like many agree that the article was a lot of hooey.

Apr. 14th, 2016 01:52 am (UTC)
"do me a favor and knock it off with the armchair psychologist crap before you seriously hurt someone."

This this this this so much. I'm just finishing up a psych degree and armchair psychologists make me want to rip my hair out. Just stop it wannabe psychs, you have NO IDEA what you're doing. You WILL do damage.
Apr. 14th, 2016 03:57 am (UTC)
Holy CRAP omgwtfbbq I don't understand how people can type this clueless shit. O_O
Apr. 14th, 2016 09:30 am (UTC)
Slatestarcodex described this in an excellent way:


Psychotherapists treat arachnophobia with exposure therapy, too. They expose people first to cute, little spiders behind a glass cage. Then bigger spiders. Then they take them out of the cage. Finally, in a carefully controlled environment with their very supportive therapist standing by, they make people experience their worst fear, like having a big tarantula crawl all over them. It usually works pretty well.

Finding an arachnophobic person, and throwing a bucket full of tarantulas at them while shouting “I’M HELPING! I’M HELPING!” works less well.
Apr. 14th, 2016 03:43 pm (UTC)
I'm arachnophobic and that would SERIOUSLY creep me out.

I don't mind watching spiders behind a glass; in fact, I find them fascinating creatures. But one crawling free in my flat is a damn problem. :-)
Apr. 16th, 2016 08:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post, Jim.

I've had such bad experiences with people who thought that they Knew The Best Way To Help Me With My Psych Issues without regard for what I thought about it at the time.

Edited at 2016-04-16 08:23 pm (UTC)
Apr. 17th, 2016 07:44 pm (UTC)
Via iwillbeyourhands on Tumblr:

LIKE there’s this whole thing in this book about how your brain grows stronger and healthier by practicing responding to stress in healthy ways, because if a stressor is predictable and you feel a sense of control over it, you habituate and stop reacting to it, but if it’s random and unpredictable you have the opposite response and become sensitized, so your reaction actually gets more and more extreme. (if you hear a loud noise at predictable intervals you’ll soon stop noticing or reacting, but if you hear it at random intervals you’ll become sensitive to it and anxious.) so one way to help people who have adverse reactions to reminders of trauma is to give them control over how they’re reminded of the trauma, because it helps the brain practice responding to stress in a safe way so you can habituate to the stress response.

which is why if someone tags something for a trigger and you still choose to look, it’s actually an act of healthy resistance against your reaction to that trigger (because it teaches your brain to habituate), but encountering something triggering in a random and unpredictable way actually increases your stress response and makes you more sensitive to the trigger. so people who are against trigger warnings because “you have to learn to cope” are actually taking away your tools for learning to cope, because encountering stressors in a way that further strips you of control over your trauma is never, ever helpful. it’s a lot of stuff i kind of knew but integrated and explained with more context and science

I bookmarked it for future use, and then had to go digging through my unsorted bookmarks to find it. I'll be putting it someplace actually useful, now.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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