On the merch page of licensed professional counselor Jeff Guenther’s website, there’s a T-shirt that reads “Jeff says relax.” If you’ve watched the Portland, Oregon-based therapist’s TikTok videos, you know this directive is less of an order and more of a loving reminder that everything will be OK.
Guenther, 41, better known as TherapyJeff, is beloved by his audience of 2.3 million on TikTok for his quippy commentary on red flags, conversation starters, breakup advice, and more. Or, as in his own words from his bio: “trying my best to save your relationship!” His videos follow a well-established formula: Guenther in a flannel and T-shirt, sitting in front of a window, telling you calmly and directly how to better get in touch with your needs.
He’s also not afraid to sprinkle in personal anecdotes and curse words to drive a point home. “People tend to put therapists up on this pedestal,” Guenther, who has been practicing for 17 years, tells Elite Daily. “So if I can give these little glimpses into how things are really messy, or how some of my family relationships are really fraught, they might think, ‘Oh, even TherapyJeff struggles with something that I’m struggling with, and that feels really healing.’”
Here, TikTok’s resident relationship therapist (and co-host of the podcast This Changes Everything) talks about speaking up, setting boundaries, and working toward the love life you deserve.
Elite Daily: What initially sparked your interest in therapy — and then how did you get into TikTok?
Jeff Guenther: My mom’s a therapist, so naturally, we talked a lot about feelings and emotions in my house growing up. A big reason I wanted to become a therapist was to figure out how I could be more emotionally intelligent, emotionally present, and tuned in with people. I became obsessed with trying to figure out why we are the way we are, how our childhood has affected who we are as adults, and how we interact in relationships.
I became obsessed with TikTok during the pandemic, and late in 2021, I didn’t have much to do and was like, “I bet those little one-liners that work well to give my clients an ‘aha’ moment would work on TikTok too.” Things like “Are you needy or are you not getting your emotional needs met?” So it became this challenge of “How can I go viral? How can I make a difference? How can I create a platform and figure out what to do with it?”
ED: You’ve obviously succeeded at that. Is TikTok your full-time gig now, or are you still maintaining a private practice?
Jeff: I still have a private practice, and that’s not something I plan on giving up. My private practice is only on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the rest of the days are for content creation. I spend about three to four hours a day creating content for TikTok, and it takes me a couple hours to create one 60-second video.
ED: What are the most common questions you get in your comments?
Jeff: I get a ton of comments from people asking about long-distance relationships and people asking when they should take their relationship to the next level. A lot of people watch my content and understand that maybe they’re not in the relationship that’s best for them, and they’ll have these “aha” moments. Like “Oh, this makes sense, I feel really validated.” A lot of the comments say “I feel really seen by you, I feel really understood,” which is a big intention of mine.
ED: I saw a comment on one of your recent videos that said “Every time I watch your videos I either feel validated or I feel like I need to do work. And I thank you for both of those feelings.” That’s such a good way to distill your content. As a therapist, how do you think about the balance between reassuring a viewer and challenging them to work on themselves?
Jeff: When I first started creating videos, I was leaning a little bit more into challenging people, and I don’t think that I created enough trust with my audience. It felt a little too challenging too quickly, and I felt like people really just wanted to be seen and understood. So now I do a lot of validation like “You deserve X, Y, and Z.” Or “Here are five green flags in a partner.”
The people who need to feel validated can go ahead and feel validated, and the people who want to grow can turn what I’m saying back onto themselves. If I’m saying “These are things you should look for in a partner,” I’m also really saying “These are things you should be doing as a partner.” The people who want to grow will see the video in that way.
ED: For me as a viewer, how can I determine whether I need some tough love or affirmation?
Jeff: If there’s a lot of self-doubt that’s happening inside of you, then I want to validate you and let you know that your feelings are real, they’re important, and you should take them seriously. Hopefully the people you care about will also take them seriously.
I want people to think about challenging themselves if they’re continually repeating certain patterns in relationships — maybe they don’t know why they’re always falling for people who are unavailable, or they don’t know why they’re feeling extremely anxious in their relationships. If there’s some sort of repetitive pattern and you can’t figure out what’s going on, the common denominator is you. If that’s the case, then what are you doing to possibly create what’s going on?
My videos are almost like these little ink blot tests where you see whatever you need to see. You might be upset with what I’m saying — maybe I’m challenging you too much or you don’t agree with me, and it’s good for you to get in touch with that.
When you first start to fall for somebody, you have rose-tinted glasses on. Then all the red flags just look like flags.
ED: You’ll often assure the viewer that they’re not “too much” or a “burden” to others. Why do you think a lot of people feel this way?
Jeff: Yeah, those videos always go viral. There’s sort of this feeling perpetuated by society that we need to be really “chill,” easygoing, and only focus on our partner’s needs. But really, you’re not giving the relationship a shot if you do that. You need to show up as your authentic self so the other person knows how to meet your needs.
ED: I’m obsessed with your video about emojis not to send to someone you’re newly talking to (like the thumbs-up emoji, which can be seen as “passive aggressive and rude”). Why do you think the early days of texting with someone can be so stressful?
Jeff: I love texting — it’s one of the first ways we make contact with somebody and start the rapport, intimacy, and flirtation. But there can be a lot that’s left unsaid, and it’s easy to have anxiety about it. That video was just meant to poke fun and be silly, and people should feel free to disagree with me. There are a lot of people in those comments being like, “Nope. I use these emojis all the time; that doesn’t mean what you think it means.”
ED: If you could share one essential piece of dating advice, what would it be?
Jeff: Be aware that when you first start to fall for somebody, you have rose-tinted glasses on. Then all the red flags just look like flags. So it helps to get really specific about your nonnegotiables. What do you want and need in a relationship?
I’ve talked about this in my videos before: the concept of green flag chemistry and red flag chemistry. The red flag chemistry feels really chaotic and out of control. “What’s going to happen next? I’m so excited. I feel like this person is really in love with me.” There might even be some love bombing going on, and you can get really swept away.
Green flag chemistry is the feeling of “Oh, I can be my authentic self. I feel really safe, and we’re a great match when it comes to interests, values, and core belief systems.” It’s less like a roller coaster and more of this controlled ride that feels really sweet and grounding. It’s important to lean more into those types of relationships.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.