Words Matter: Terms that Inhibit

Words Matter: Terminology that Inhibits Successful Outcomes and What to Say if in a Court Team, Law Enforcement or Treatment

Keynote or Breakout


To achieve the goals of increased public safety, decreased legal recidivism and crime, and safety for children and families, participants need to be engaged in a self-change, accountable treatment process.  Certain words, misused terms and stigmatizing and discriminatory words can signal negative and disempowering attitudes and approaches.

This presentation will highlight a variety of words that work against engaging a participant into treatment and lasting change.  It will provide “scripts” of what judges, court personnel, law enforcement and treatment providers can say in different situations such as positive drug screen results.  It will suggest what to say to orient participants to treatment courts, mandated treatment, and how to discuss progress reports and recommendations for sanctions and incentives.


Participants will

  1. Identify commonly used terms that can be misused and inhibit engagement and accountable change.
  2. Discuss what alternative words can be used to improve motivation for change and enhance attitude, thinking and behavior change to achieve public and family safety.
  3. Apply talking points and scripts to guide judges, law enforcement, court personnel and clinicians in dealing with relapses, poor attendance, non-adherence and progress reports.