I launched TriBeCa Therapy (the website, not the practice) in early March of 2010 and excitedly shared it with my friends, colleagues and therapy patients. The feedback was terrific. Aside from having a few typos pointed out (a genuine “thank you” for those, always) the only complaint I got was unexpected. “This looks great but, um…
…I don’t think growthful is a word.”
If you know me (and especially if you’re in therapy with me) you probably know that I’m a fan of growth and of the word growthful. Even though I could clearly see as I typed the word into my WordPress dashboard that it wasn’t seen as a real word (the dashboard underlined it in a red, as it’s doing now, as to warn me of my unorthodox word choice) I assumed most readers, particularly those who knew me, wouldn’t find anything odd about growthful. Was I ever wrong!
The complaints (and I’m talking about more than a few) fell solidly into two categories (though commonly both were cited from the same person). First, was an objection to me “making up a word.” The second were criticisms suggesting that the word sounded “touchy-feely” or “new-age-y” and therefore reflected on me in ways that weren’t consistent with how the complainants saw me.
I’m into growth
While I’m not always swayed by every critique that comes my way, I really considered making a change. It is important to me not to come across here (or elsewhere) as either illiterate or touchy-feely (this is definitely another blog post). At the same time, I think conversations around emotional health are much too focused on pathology, negativity, and “fixing” what is perceived to be broken. Too many people view psychotherapy as an activity that’s focused on what’s wrong, rather than on creating emotional health. I talk a lot about growth and it’s growth that I want to give to my patients and my readers. I hope that you’ll understand that, towards that end, the adjective growthful often comes in handy.
I like making up words
I actually didn’t make up the word growthful. Far from it. In fact, there are a number of online dictionaries that include growthful without qualification. It’s used by therapists and educators and yogis alike.
That said, I respect that many (like WordPress) don’t consider it a fully-legitimate word. And I respectful declare that I don’t care. For one thing, all words are made up; I consider this to be a non-incidental fact regarding language, i.e. that language was (and is continually) created by human beings. At various points in history, cultures sought to bring order to languages by writing dictionaries and standardizing rules of grammar and other aspects of language usage. Among other reasons, this was done for control (for one thing, it kept certain ethnic groups from forming their own dialects that might perpetuate a distinct identity and perpetuate a desire for independence). It also had the effect of formalizing power structures such as class (in Britain, for example, it was obviously the particular variety of English spoken by the upper classes that became classified as “The Queens English”).
When it comes to the language we use to discuss our emotional lives, it is the American Psychiatric Association, publisher of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) that plays the role of determining what words are and are not acceptable. In my opinion, they too dramatically limit the scope of how we might talk about emotions and problems in living. Too often we wish to communicate about feelings and experiences for which there aren’t available words ordained in the DSM as acceptable. So why not make up new words? Words that can be put to good use in talking about and creating our lives? (Look here for more discussion on this website regarding diagnosis and non-diagnostic psychotherapy.)
I’m adding growthful to my dictionary
The cautionary red line under the word growthful will now be a thing of the past for me (at least in WordPress). I’ve now added it to my dictionary. Maybe growthful isn’t your cup of tea. I’m okay with that. But I do hope that you’ll considering making growth a big part of your life. The world is profoundly in need of growth. I also hope that you’ll understand the next time you read one of my made-up words.