Preventing Betrayal in Psychology by Avoiding Pathologizing Language

Jennifer J. Freyd, University of Oregon

Excerpt from: Freyd, J.J. (2013). Preventing Betrayal.  [Editorial]  Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 14, 495-500.

Note: The following excerpt is copyrighted. It is available for attributed public use under a Creative Commons CC-BY-ND 3.0 license. If you wish to copy, distribute, or otherwise re-use these materials or to modify them, please first contact Jennifer J. Freyd for reprint permission. This version is in press and has not been copyedited.


The potential for betrayal – and opportunity to prevent betrayal -- is . . . ever-present in our own field and profession.  One of the many ways we can betray is by pathologizing victims and survivors of trauma and mistreatment.  This betrayal can take many forms, but of particular relevance for the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, is the way language itself can pathologize.   When trauma is described as an illness, it pathologizes individuals, placing the problem in the victim rather than the event, undermining the strength and dignity of individuals.  For instance, illness words such as “comorbidity,” when used to include exposure to trauma, pathologize victims.  Having experienced a trauma is not equivalent to having a disease.  When speaking of exposure to events, a non-pathologizing word is “co-occurrence.”  It is important to understand that we can participate in insidious betrayal even by the language we use.