Terminology for Mental Health Professionals

By Hattie Rowe
West Virginia University

As medical knowledge increases, so does responsibility. We are continually enlightened of more sensitive ways to approach conversations with patients. People with eating disorders can be sensitive to others and the vocabulary directed towards them (Kuipers, G., den Hollander, S., van der Ark, L.A., & Bekker, M. 2017). Research has shown that people who have eating disorders focus more on appearance-related words (Myers, Ridolfi, & Crowther, 2015). Staying up-to-date on positive and person-oriented terminology for patients is a responsibility for all who work with individuals who have eating disorders.

The following terms have been proposed by researchers and professionals as more appropriate terms to use in conversation with patients who have eating disorders.


Kuipers, G. S., den Hollander, S., van der Ark, L. A., & Bekker, M. H. J. (2017). Recovery from eating disorder 1 year after start of treatment is related to better mentalization and strong reduction of sensitivity to others. Eating and Weight Disorders, 22, 535–547. doi: 10.1007/s40519-017-0405-x

Lilienfeld, S.O., Sauvigne, K.C., Lynn, S.J., Cautin, R.L., Latzman, R.D., Waldman, I.D. Fifty psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid: A list of inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, and logically confused words and phrases. Frontiers in Psychology. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01100

Media Resources. Retrieved from https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/media-resources/

Myers, T. A., Ridolfi, D. R., & Crowther, J. H. (2015). Reaction times to appearance-related or non-appearance-related word choice among women with and without eating psychopathology. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 39, 204–214.
doi: 10.1007/s10608-014-9653-5

Nielsen, E., Padmanathan, P., and Knipe, D. (2016) Commit* to change? A call to end the publication of the phrase ‘commit* suicide’. Wellcome Open Research, 1:2.
doi: 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.10333.1

Puhl, R. M., Peterson J. L., Luedicke J. (2013) Motivating or stigmatizing? Public perceptions of weight-related language used by health providers. International Journal of Obesity. 37: 612-9. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.110

Spencer-Thomas, S. (2018). Language matters: Why we don’t say “Committed suicide”. International Risk Management Institute, INC.
Retrieved from https://www.irmi.com/articles/expert-commentary/language-matters- committed-suicide

Weissman, R. S., Becker, A. E., Bulik, C. M., Frank, G. K. W., Klump, K. L., Steiger, H., … Walsh, B. T. (2016). Speaking of that: Terms to avoid or reconsider in the eating disorders field. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 49, 349–353.
doi: 10.1002/eat.22528