It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving here in the US, a holiday famed for its abundant food, contested history, and familial arguments. I confess my family doesn’t fight at Thanksgiving–we leave most of our giant arguments for our annual summer vacation where we’re together for a week and have time to resolve most disputes. Thus I did not bring up this question at our heavily laden table but it’s been on my mind since earlier in the week when the New York Times published a measured article entitled Brave Little Warriors in which it, inadvertently, made an argument against trigger warnings. I thought I’d ask youall about it instead–you cannot throw mashed potatoes at me or yell at me in front of my mom.
The Times article extols the benefits of exposure therapy which it defines here:
The decades-old treatment, which is considered a gold-standard approach for tackling anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, encourages patients to intentionally face the objects or situations that cause them the most distress. A type of cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure often works within months and has minimal side effects.
The author, an editor on the Times Health and Science desk, writes such therapy is exceptionally successful in helping children and young people overcome extreme anxieties and is fairly easy to implement. Many therapists however don’t us it because they balk at the notion of intentionally making their clients feel worse.
I’ve long been iffy on trigger warnings. I believe that resilience, a key component of mental health, is compromised when those who struggle with anxiety or depression see themselves as helpless in the face of challenging ideas, words, or experiences. Studies on trigger warnings show that rather than helping us manage our anxiety, they often make it worse.
On the other hand, who wants to be cruel? If a topic makes someone flinch, is it the right thing to do to make sure they know it’s present? Are trigger warnings in a review different in that they let readers know that, if they are to read a book, this is what they may encounter and thus prepare for? Are they helpful for some and don’t bother most so why not?
What do you think? Do you think they’re a good thing or not? If so, why?