Glossary of Mental Health Terms

National Institute of Mental Health

ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that stems from traditional behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. ACT has been used effectively to help treat workplace stress, test anxiety, social anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychosis. It has also been used to help treat medical conditions such as chronic pain, substance abuse, and diabetes.

ANTIDEPRESSANT Medication used to treat depression and other mood and anxiety disorders.

ANTIPSYCHOTIC Medication used to treat psychosis.

APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS (ABA) ABA is commonly practiced as a therapeutic intervention for individuals with autism. According to the Center for Autism, ABA helps the autistic client improve social interactions, learn new skills, and maintain positive behaviors. ABA also helps transfer skills and behavior from one situation to another, controlling situations where negative behaviors arise and minimizing negative behaviors.

AUDITORY HALLUCINATIONS Hearing something that is not real. Hearing voices is an example of auditory hallucinations.

BRAINSPOTTING Brainspotting is an advanced brain-body therapy that focuses on identifying, processing, and releasing imbalances, trauma, and residual emotional stress. It is based on the premise that ‘where you look affects how you feel’ and finds that eye positions correlate with unconscious, emotional experiences. It reaches parts of the brain that are not generally accessed through traditional talk therapy approaches. It has roots in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and similarly supports the reprocessing of negative experiences and retrains emotional reactions. Brainspotting can be used on its own or in addition to other therapies.

CHRONIC Persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.

CLINICAL TRIAL A scientific study using human volunteers (also called participants) to look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Treatments might be new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or new ways to use existing treatments.

COGNITION Conscious mental activities (such as thinking, communicating, understanding, solving problems, processing information and remembering) that are associated with gaining knowledge and understanding.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT) Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders and severe mental illness. Numerous research studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life. In many studies, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective as, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY FOR PSYCHOSIS (CBT-P) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that specifically addresses the positive symptoms of psychosis (e.g., hearing voices).

COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT Experiencing difficulty with cognition. Examples include having trouble paying attention, thinking clearly or remembering new information. (Also see cognition)

COGNITIVE REMEDIATION Training that uses a variety of techniques including computer exercises and adaptive strategies to improve cognition. This therapy is designed to strengthen the underlying brain functions that help support cognitive skills such as memory, attention and problem solving.

COMORBIDITY The existence of two or more illnesses in the same person. These illnesses can be physical or mental.

DELUSIONS Beliefs that have no basis in reality.

DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Its main goals are to teach people how to live in the moment, cope healthily with stress, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others. It was originally intended for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) but has since been adapted for other conditions where the person struggles with emotional regulation or exhibits self-destructive behavior, such as disordered eating and substance misuse.

DUAL DIAGNOSIS Having a mental health disorder and an alcohol or drug problem at the same time.

DURATION OF UNTREATED PSYCHOSIS The length of time between the beginning of psychotic symptoms and the beginning of antipsychotic treatment.

EARLY INTERVENTION Diagnosing and treating a mental illness when it first develops.

EQUINE THERAPY Equine therapy, also known as Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT), is a treatment that includes equine activities and/or an equine environment in order to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in persons suffering from ADD, Anxiety, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Depression, Developmental Delays, Genetic Syndromes (such as Down Syndrome), traumatic brain injuries, behavioral issues, abuse issues, and many other mental health problems.  Equine Therapy can help the individual build confidence, self- efficiency, communication, trust, perspective, social skills, impulse control, and learn boundaries.

EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICE Treatments that are supported by clinical research.

EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING (EMDR) THERAPY Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a structured therapy that encourages the patient to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories.

FAMILY EDUCATION/SUPPORT This part of coordinated specialty care teaches family and friends about first episode psychosis and helps them support the client’s recovery. Family and friends are involved in the client’s treatment as much as possible, and as long as it is consistent with the client’s wishes.

FIRST EPISODE PSYCHOSIS The first time an individual experiences an episode of psychosis. Also see Psychosis.

FIRST EPISODE SCHIZOPHRENIA SPECTRUM The first time an individual experiences an episode of psychosis. Also see Psychosis.

HALLUCINATIONS Hearing, seeing, touching, smelling or tasting things that are not real.

INPATIENT Health care treatment for someone who is admitted to a hospital (also see Outpatient).

INTENSIVE OUTPATIENT PROGRAM (IOP) The typical IOP program offers group therapy and generally facilitates 6-30 hours a week of programming for addiction treatment. IOP allows the individual to be able to participate in their daily affairs, such as work, and then participate in treatment at an appropriate facility in the morning or at the end of the day. With an IOP, classes, sessions, meetings, and workshops are scheduled throughout the day, and individuals are expected to adhere to the strict structure of the program.

INTERVENTION An action intended to help treat or cure a condition.

LONG-ACTING INJECTABLE (drugs) A shot of medication administered once or twice a month. The shot is an alternative to taking a daily dose of medication.

MOOD DISORDERS Mental disorders primarily affecting a person’s mood.

NATIONAL ALLIANCE ON MENTAL ILLNESS (NAMI) The nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. NAMI is one of over 80 national nonprofit organizations that participate in the NIMH Outreach Partnership Program.

NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH (NIMH) The lead federal agency for research on mental disorders. NIMH is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

NEGATIVE SYMPTOMS Symptoms of schizophrenia are often classified as positive or negative. Examples of negative symptoms that “take away” from life include social withdrawal, lost interest in life, low energy, emotional flatness, reduced ability to concentrate and remember. (Also see Positive Symptoms)

OUTPATIENT Health care treatment given to individuals who are not admitted to a hospital. (Also see Inpatient)

PARTIAL HOSPITALIZATION Partial hospitalization, also known as PHP (partial hospitalization program), is a type of program used to treat mental illness and substance abuse. In partial hospitalization, the patient continues to reside at home, but commutes to a treatment center up to seven days a week.

PERSON-CENTERED THERAPY (ROGERIAN THERAPY) Person-centered therapy uses a non-authoritative approach that allows clients to take more of a lead in discussions so that, in the process, they will discover their own solutions. The therapist acts as a compassionate facilitator, listening without judgment and acknowledging the client’s experience without moving the conversation in another direction. The therapist is there to encourage and support the client and to guide the therapeutic process without interrupting or interfering with the client’s process of self-discovery.

PHARMACOTHERAPY Medication selection, dosing and management. Pharmacotherapy for first episode psychosis typically involves a low dose of a single antipsychotic medication and careful monitoring for side effects.

PLAY THERAPY Although sometimes used with adults, play therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach primarily used to help children ages 3 to 12 explore their lives and freely express repressed thoughts and emotions through play. Therapeutic play helps children with social or emotional deficits learn to communicate better, change their behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and relate to others in positive ways. It is appropriate for children undergoing or witnessing stressful events in their lives, such as a serious illness or hospitalization, domestic violence, abuse, trauma, a family crisis, or an upsetting change in their environment. Play therapy can help children with academic and social problems, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, grief, or anger, as well as those with attention deficit disorders or who are on the autism spectrum.

PSYCHIATRIST A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (an M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in mental health, including substance use disorders. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems. People seek psychiatric help for many reasons.

PSYCHOLOGIST Psychologists typically do the following: Conduct scientific studies of behavior and brain function. Observe, interview, and survey individuals. Identify psychological, emotional, behavioral, or organizational issues and diagnose disorders.

POSITIVE SYMPTOMS Psychotic symptoms are often classified as positive or negative. Examples of positive symptoms that “add to” a person’s experiences include delusions (believing something to be true when it is not) and hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting something that is not real). (Also see Negative Symptoms)

PSYCHODYNAMIC THERAPY Psychodynamic therapy, also known as insight-oriented therapy, focuses on unconscious processes as they are manifested in a person’s present behavior. The goals of psychodynamic therapy are a client’s self-awareness and understanding of the influence of the past on present behavior. In its brief form, a psychodynamic approach enables the client to examine unresolved conflicts and symptoms that arise from past dysfunctional relationships and manifest themselves in the need and desire to abuse substances.

PSYCHOEDUCATION Learning about mental illness and ways to communicate, solve problems and cope.

PSYCHOSIS The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. When someone becomes ill in this way it is called a psychotic episode. During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not. Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation. A person in a psychotic episode may also experience depression, anxiety, sleep problems, social withdrawal, lack of motivation and difficulty functioning overall.

PSYCHOSOCIAL INTERVENTIONS Non-medication therapies for people with mental illness and their families. Therapies include psychotherapy, coping skills, training and supported employment and education services.

PSYCHOTHERAPY Treatment of mental illness by talking about problems rather than by using medication. Treatment for first episode psychosis is based on cognitive behavioral therapy principles and emphasizes resilience training, illness and wellness management, and coping skills. Treatment is tailored to each client’s needs.

RATIONAL EMOTIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY (REBT) REBT can help you with negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, guilt, and extreme or inappropriate anger. This approach is also used to help change stressful and self-defeating behaviors, such as aggression, unhealthy eating, and procrastination that get in the way of your quality of life and reaching your goals.

RECOVERY The process by which people with mental illness return or begin to work, learn and participate in their communities. For some individuals and their families, recovery means the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life.

SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

SOLUTION FOCUSED BRIEF THERAPY Unlike traditional forms of therapy that take time to analyze problems, pathology and past life events, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) concentrates on finding solutions in the present time and exploring one’s hope for the future to find quicker resolution of one’s problems. This method takes the approach that you know what you need to do to improve your own life and, with the appropriate coaching and questioning, are capable of finding the best solutions.

SUPPORTED EMPLOYMENT/EDUCATION (SEE) Part of coordinated specialty care, SEE services help clients return to work or school and achieve personal goals. Emphasis is on rapid placement in a work or school setting, combined with coaching and support to ensure success. Learn more at “What is supported education/employment and why is it important” on our Questions and Answers page.

THERAPIST/COUNSELOR/PSYCHOTHERAPIST They are licensed mental health professionals who helps clients improve their lives, develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce symptoms of mental illness and cope with various challenges.