Dark psychology:

Travis Knowlton LCSW
4 min readJun 19, 2024

Is it being used in everyday psychotherapy?

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Combat Hunter is a course we went through in the military to teach how to spot bad guys through assessing and establishing the social norms of an area and then working with the individuals to make them comfortably give up their harmful intentions or expose those with them.

Training in traditional and sports martial arts gives a great understanding of how to win a fight before it even begins. Learning to assess the opponent's emotional state through how they carry themselves, use facial expressions, and observe their statements' tone, not the context, gives great insight.

These skills are for finding weakness and exposing it to the core to dominate and destroy your opponent before the first strike.

Now, therapy has this societal definition: this unbiased and removed type of interaction where the therapist sits back and pretentiously directs the client towards proper behavior and acting like a civilized individual.

What if we flipped that and used the various techniques of dark psychology to discover clients' weaknesses and vulnerabilities and teach them how to enhance and develop them into strengths?

Oh!! We are walking a thin line between manipulative behavior and altruistic compassion. How do we know, and how does the client see that the pursuit is for the ultimate good?

Connection through vulnerability: if the therapist continuously strives to be authentic and welcomes change to the degree that it will change them, then we mimic what we hope for the client.

Now, we will explore the actual aspects of dark psychology and how they can foster growth and healing!

Gaslighting- people use this to make their partner believe what they saw or heard was a fallacy by changing facts and/or making the other person question their ability to remember or reason. In therapy, you could use the technique but with a casual and welcoming tone and encourage the client to observe their perception of self; this will build the awareness of their self-narrative. Do they believe they thought wrong, or is a manipulation technique in place? You can also use it to work through the given scenario with the client so that they see how a situation might fully play out and then reveal the approach to them.

Exploitation- finding, pointing out, and creating shame associated with a person's weakness or vulnerability. The finding and pointing out part of the definition is a great skill to use in therapy. After the pointing out has occurred, you encourage the client to explore their feelings and work with them to expand and explore them to the fullest degree so that they can see that the shame and guilt are of another perception and not of their own. Then, it can be changed!

Guilt-tripping- Making another person feel guilty so that their behavior or cognitive direction can be controlled. Her guilt is used as a tool of empowerment, creating an imaginative scenario where the roles in the client's lives are reversed, and they act out how they perceive the person doing the guilt-tripping. This will usually open curiosity, compassion, and a desire to grow personally.

Triangulation- includes talking behind someone's back or using the threat of removing them from a social group to control what they say or do. In therapy, this would be used in a hypothetical or role-playing perspective to teach them how to navigate and seek out these behaviors.

Paltering- The use of selective truth to control and manage one's perspective and behaviors towards certain circumstances. This can be used in therapy to teach the client critical thinking skills, such as deductive and inductive reasoning.

Love bombing — Involves overly showering the person with gifts and compliments. It can be used in therapy to show the person how their emotions can manipulate them. The lesson is that they understand that emotions are valid but unreliable.

So…yes! These techniques are used in everyday psychotherapy, but only by those who are keenly aware of how to turn them into heightened awareness for our clients.

Knowing when the techniques for good are bad is critical for you to be aware of. The way to measure and know if they are done for self-improvement or manipulation is through the result. Do you feel more encouraged? Are your critical thinking skills growing and being encouraged? Do you feel more qualified to handle stress and conflictual communication and interactions?

If you answered yes to these questions, then the person's values are based on strengthening you and building empowerment. If the answer is no, then you need to expose these manipulative communication techniques and/or refrain from interacting with these types of people.

Travis Knowlton LCSW



Travis Knowlton LCSW

I'm a husband, father, veteran, and licensed clinical social worker that is here to enjoy and share!