Psychotherapy Glossary

A Glossary of Terms a Psychotherapist and Clients might use…



Abuse can come in many forms and in many circumstances. It is where power and control is exercised against another’s wishes and this leads to emotional harm and sometimes trauma and can last with the abuse victim for many years if unresolved.

See also drug abuse/emotional abuse/sexual abuse/physical abuse


A condition where the body or the mind becomes reliant on a drug, substance, behaviour or an action to function and where an absence of that stimulus causes a negative reaction.

See also Alcohol Addiction/Behavioural Addiction/Drug Addiction/Exercise Addiction/Internet Addiction/Sexual Addiction/Shopping Addiction.

Alcohol Addiction

This is when the use of alcohol passes from a casual to a need basis. When individuals use alcohol to escape from emotions or circumstances it can begin to dominate their lives and becomes problematic. It’s not a question of how much and how often but one of the neediness and reliance and then the possible effects.


This is a normal though intense reaction or response to danger or perceived danger – as well as social frustrations – but it can become overwhelming and uncontrolled and therefore destructive in work and personal relationships as well as potentially damaging to ourselves.  Anger may lead to violence.

Anorexia/Anorexia Nervosa

An eating disorder condition where a person’s body weight is significantly less than a normal expectation but where the person maintains a regime of diet (or exercise) because of perceptions of being obese or unattractively overweight.


Intense response to an expected event before that event with preconceptions of its difficulty. Anxiety can be manifest as a sense of restlessness, over cautiousness, irritability, a lack of concentration or simply uncomfortable dread. It can be tiring and if not addressed, it can lead to more severe issues and extreme anxiety can lead to panic attacks.


Behavioural Addiction:

An umbrella term for various (non-substance) addictions – exercise addiction, shopping addiction for example – where a normal behaviour becomes obsessive or compulsive and potentially negative. The addictive element is when the action/activity becomes a dependency and includes withdrawal problems.

Behaviour Therapy/Behaviour Modification:

This is a part of psychotherapy where a person is helped to reduce (or reduce the frequency of) problem behaviours and increase (or increase the frequency of) desired or positive behaviours.


Bereavement is a very natural response to loss (often a death of a loved one) but individuals and circumstances can change the degree and depth of emotional responses to the loss. The term is used to describe any major loss – a divorce for example. “Coming to terms” with one’s loss can leave an individual depressed and isolated, unwilling to share the burden and admit the degree of emotions or negative feelings to others. Mourning is a process to deal with bereavement and how and whether it is expressed or suppressed can effect bereavement.

Binge Eating:

Often associated with bulimia but also affecting middle aged men and women, binge eating is overeating on a regular basis – often as a reaction to emotional stresses or unexplored feelings of unhappiness or low self-esteem. It is a compulsion and often planned.

Body Image:

This is the personally subjective view of one’s own body which can be erroneous and damaging when it leads to eating disorders.

Body Dysmorphia or BDD:

An anxiety disorder which manifests in an individual to have an erroneous view of their body or other physical attributes (e.g. scars, noses) and the obsession with their own appearance. This is often related to other issues – be it OCD or eating disorders as examples.

Bulimia/Bulimia Nervosa:

An eating disorder which includes binge eating and the subsequent purging (being sick, use of laxatives or diuretics) and/or fasting as a reaction to one’s body image.



A person who meets with a psychotherapist – a term that we generally prefer to patient (which may imply mental illness requiring medication) although making a distiction isn’t a real necessity.


This is not a part of psychotherapy – as it includes the coach directly advising clients.  Psychotherapy on the other hand is non-directive and involves the client coming to understand their own emotions.


An area of psychotherapy which relies and focuses on the understanding of when, where and why topical psychological issues arise and how the emotional stresses are triggered. Similarly, in the therapy and treatment “cognitive” means indicates where strategies to cope are based on recognising these triggers.

Compulsive Buying/Shopping Disorder:

See Shopping Addiction

Compulsive Disorder:

Where one’s behaviour is compulsive and cannot be self-regulated as a result of obsession or the attempt to escape some unhappiness. See OCD.

Cognitive Analytic Psychotherapy (CAT):

This is a therapy which acknowledges the above and helps to see an understanding of why behaviours and feelings have developed and  why they may or may not help or hinder in the present.


Privacy and discretion within the psychotherapeutic discussions – which are important for clients to feel comfortable in discussing difficult and private matters. Your psychotherapist will not divulge or discuss your issues outside of your session nor with other people.


This is the process of dealing with issues that are real or perceived – that are thought to be difficult, threatening or seen as overwhelming. Coping is a way of taking control over something that may seem too difficult before an individual starts therapy. Coping and/or learning to cope is the aim of all therapy.


The practice of offering and giving counsel by talking therapy with a client with emotional or mental health issues. A professional counsellor in the field of psychotherapy will be called a psychotherapist; a term which requires 5 years training.


One who offers counselling to a client with an emotional or mental health issue with the intention of a remedy through understanding and relief. In psychotherapy, a counsellor will be a psychotherapist who is fully trained to listen and empathise and to help find understanding of the issues and feelings.

(Other spellings Counselor – US/Canada)

Couples Counselling:

This is therapy where the issue of a couple’s relationship is explored – but not as a relationship per se but where each individual’s emotional issues and feelings are explored so as to put the relationship into a context. Therapy will involve each person learning a better understanding of themselves and how any behaviours may be causing problems or different behaviours may offer solutions. Couples counselling may also help with learning how to listen to one’s partner.


Decision Aversion:

This is where a person avoids making decisions through an inability to deal with the alternatives and thus being unable to accept or reject either or any option or choice. This aversion can concern big or small decisions and can become habitual.


This is a disruptive condition which can affect every aspect or one’s life – characterised by sadness and a loss of interest, vigour, concentration and hope, among other symptoms. It is quite often triggered by difficult life events but it can be less obvious what the triggers are. It is more serious than sadness because it continuously robs the sufferer of any hope of escaping tat sadness or the circumstances that bring it on.

See also Bereavement/Low Self Esteem/Male Depression/Self-Harm


Can be a mild form of feeling unrelated or disconnected from one’s circumstances through to a disconnection with one’s memories or even oneself and one’s identity. The cause of dissociation is often a necessity in an earlier period to keep secrets or distance ourselves from something or somebody and the habit stuck.

Drug Abuse:

This is when the use of a drug passes from a casual use to a problematic level. The amount or the frequency is not the tipping point into abuse; the fact that it leads to a need and the fact that it leads to psychological problems is when it becomes abuse.

Drug Addiction:

Like drug abuse, as above, drug addiction is when the use of a drug passes from a casual use to a dependency or a need. This in turn may increase the use to feed that need and the potential negative effects increase beyond the individual’s control.


Eating Disorders:

There are many types of eating disorders but they have in common an issue with food and eating including abnormal attitudes to food and diets. Unhealthy eating habits are often the result of psychological issues which psychotherapists can help clients to understand and find remedial strategies.

See also Anorexia/Anorexia Nervosa/Bulimia/Bulimia Nervosa/Binge Eating

Emotional Abuse:

Like other forms of abuse, emotional abuse involves the use of power, control and compliance to make the victim do things that they would otherwise not choose to do. Emotional abuse involves isolation, humiliation and the undermining of the abused which leads to a significant reduction of self-esteem: The abuser uses their position (and makes excuses for themselves) to make the abused feel that they are to blame.

Emotional Issues:

Any issue where a person’s feelings (whether understood or not yet clearly understood) may be affecting their being able to lead a normal emotional life and their relationships and/or performance. This will include anxieties and destructive or difficult thoughts which restrict or affect an emotional life. We list the main issues with which psychotherapists most often help, on the left of the website.

Emotional Intelligence:

The ability to understand and to see (perceive & appraise) emotions and to express emotions (accurately & appropriately).  The ability to see how emotions can help and understand one’s thinking and to see how emotions themselves can be analysed and understood and to be able to harness that knowing usefully and effectively.


When a course of talking therapy comes to an end, usually when the client is happy that the issues have been understood, resolved or relieved. An end is worth discussing and noting as an agreed and final close to the course.

Exercise Addiction or Exercise Obsession:

Like other addictions, exercise addiction is where something important and normal becomes obsessive and persistent and too great for health and well-being. This often excludes the normal recovery and exhaustion issues that control normal healthy exercise. It is often a result of feelings of inadequacy and pursuit of euphoria one gets from exercise – and it is often related to eating disorders.


Family Therapy Or Family Counselling:

Like couples counselling the therapy within families – whether between partners, siblings, parents or children – deals firstly with any individuals understanding emotional issues which may be affecting relationships and their emotional life. Solutions are based on the understanding of and/or the changing of behaviour. Family counselling will also help with the ability to listen both within the therapeutic process and later in a better relationship.

Female Psychotherapists: Women only Psychotherapy Practices:

Some psychotherapy practices and individual therapists promote women only therapists and clients. Although we are three female therapists we do not hold that all clients wish to see a same-gender or an opposite-gender psychotherapist and we leave that to their discretion. There are a majority of psychotherapists who are female (approx. 75-80%) but the percentage of male therapists is increasing steadily in the UK. It is a trend in the UK that more men see a therapist than before.


When one has an attachment to a person or object or action which has a different purpose to its adoption in earlier life -often an issue for those struggling with psychosexual issues.


Group Counselling/Group Therapy:

This is when counselling happens with many clients with similar or different individual issues but when they are not related (as with family or couples counselling). We do not practice group counselling at the Cavendish Psychotherapy Practice.




A term which encapsulates the formation of ideas, concepts or feelings. Often used synonymously with “thoughts” such as in suicidal ideation = suicidal thought.


A difficulty in sleeping or getting to sleep. Insomnia is often a symptom of an emotional stress. Sometimes it is a physiological issue but often it is caused by anxiety or depression.

Internet Addiction:

Like other addictions, internet addiction involves a dependency-withdrawal element which distinguishes it from normal use. It is an easy addiction to develop due to the internet’s 24-7 availability and its escape potential. Common aspects are pornography, gambling, dating and even news.


The ability to make a commitment to another person whether sexual, emotional or ethical, which embraces closeness through the commitment.



See Non-Judgemental



Low Self Esteem:

This is not a lack of confidence per se because even confident people sometimes have low self-esteem. It can be a permanent issue, like depression, (although the triggers are often circumstantial)characterised by feelings of pessimism about oneself and one’s chances at success  which seem impossible to escape and is accompanied by being overwhelmed with negative thoughts about oneself: Being positive is hard.


Male Depression:

Please also see Depression. Men suffer depression like anyone but it can be hidden and suppressed as it seems hard for them to admit their depression either to others or to themselves because of the idea that they must not be weak or be perceived as weak.

Mental Health:

An important part of anyone’s health is their mental or psychological health or balance. Mental health is related to one’s potential, effectiveness and relationships as well as a measure of happiness and comfort with one’s own self.

Mental Health Issues:

Those issues that are based in one’s head rather than from physiological causes. Many issues are dealt with by psychotherapists as they stem from emotional issues. (Some mental health issues are more chemical/medical and are dealt with by psychiatrists who prescribe medications.)


Non-Judgemental: P

eople are considerably more comfortable in an environment free from judgement. Judgement is alien to psychotherapy. (Being judgemental is when conclusions are made, opinions are formed and criticism is given – and this is exactly the opposite of good therapy.)


Obsession: Obsessive Behaviour:

Generally the behaviour described below in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. See also Exercise Obsession/Obsessive Thoughts

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: OCD:Obsessive Thoughts:

This is a disorder characterised by repetitive thoughts or actions and behaviour, often ritualistic in its nature – in an attempt to ease anxiety or pre-occupation. Most often the thoughts are unwanted and can lead to difficulties in many areas of one’s life.


See Shopping Addiction

One-to-One Counselling:

This simply describes the client/therapist relationship and discussions which is one to one, face to face and private

Online Counselling:

Some psychotherapists can conduct one of more sessions online through Skype/Webcams or similar applications. Cavendish Psychotherapy Practice does offer this in some circumstances though therapy is best done through a series of sessions in the same comfortable environment on a weekly basis. Skype is offered where this environment cannot be accessed in an instance or two. There are other forms of counselling on-line which we do not offer such as email, chat rooms or forums.


Panic Attacks:

A distressing show of extreme apprehension, anxiety, fear/terror or feelings of being threatened. Therapy can help expose the emotions behind panic attacks which I turn can help control of them.

Personality Disorder:

A personal or socially debilitating pattern of perceptions, thoughts or feelings – or behaviour – that leads to dysfunction.


A phobia is a fear. The term which is in effect an anxiety disorder, includes being terrified of situations, events or objects. Phobias can be simple (concerning one specific thing) or they can be complex when fearful of more broad concepts (like leaving home) and can be significantly distressing and restrictive. Often irrational, phobias are generally disproportional.

Physical Abuse:

Physical abuse like other forms of abuse is where the abuser makes the abused behave in ways which they wouldn’t choose to but with physical abuse the coercion becomes violent and/or includes the threat of violence. The abuser is using violence to gain control over the abused.


This refers to the physical mechanisms of the body rather than the mental aspects of one’s health.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD:

Traumatic events can leave those involved or witnesses with an unresolved inability to deal with the memory or the emotions attached to the events or a series of events. When unresolved, the trauma can lead to many symptoms or negative strategies and phobias. PTSD is the trauma surfacing at a later time with these problems.


A psychotherapy practice is where you would find more than one practitioner, rather than just one psychotherapist working alone. (US Spelling:  Practise)

Psychiatry: Psychiatrist:

Psychotherapists are distinct from psychiatrists – as the latter are medically trained usually as doctors and who generally offer medicinal solutions. (Counselling psychotherapists offer talking therapy with no interventions or medication.)

Psychodynamic Perspective/Theory:

An approach in psychotherapy where feelings or behaviours are explored in the perspective of past experience and influences. Issues may be explained by a conflict between different influences and/or resistance to those influences.

Psychology: Psychologist:

The study and practices dealing with the mind and how it affects our behaviour. A psychologist (a clinical psychologist) will use different assessments to a therapist, including psychological and psychometric tests and they will observe behaviour. They may well refer treatments to psychotherapists – as psychotherapy is a part of psychology. Although psychologists and psychotherapists occupy the same space in their concerns (depression, anxiety, etc.) psychology practitioners are more often found in public bodies such as hospitals rather than operating in private practice.

Psychosomatic Symptoms/Psychosomatic Disorders:

This can mean either that a real physical/medical condition can be caused by (or made worse by) mental disorders or that a condition (like stress) causes other conditions (like chest pain) – or that the condition can be mainly in the mind. Psychosomatic indicates an involvement of the mind (“psyche”) and the body (“soma”).


A practitioner of psychotherapy, trained to help the client in emotional or mental health issues, through counselling and talking therapy. A qualified psychotherapist has had 5 years training from a recognised and authorised body and they are usually registered with a professional body.


The practice of, and therapy dealing with emotional and/or mental health issues, with the intention of understanding and relieving the symptoms. Psychotherapy involves a therapist and a client talking about the issues in as much depth as appropriate. Psychotherapy does not involve medicinal or medical intervention


Counselling and issues that deal with the background to difficulties with sex and relationships – as emotional issues which may be conscious or unconscious. Issues which may affect desire, fear, self-esteem, compulsion as well as gender and orientation issues all come under this umbrella term.




Clients may be referred to apsychotherapist by their medical doctor when their doctor considers counselling would be more appropriate than medication per se. Conversely psychotherapists may refer clients to doctors or psychiatrists where they think that they may give more appropriate treatments.

You do not need to be referred to a psychotherapist and most clients come to see a counsellor directly and independently.


Self Esteem:

See Low Self Esteem


This is when a person injures themselves or hurts themselves on purpose – often as a way of coping with difficult emotions which they cannot share or deal with. It may be a result of low self-esteem or from depression or other psychological distress or issues. It can be a way of punishing oneself or to relieve the too-hard-to-bear distress or a mixture of these and other incentives.


This is how most psychotherapists refer to the weekly meeting and discussion between themselves and their client/s. Most often they are about 50 minutes long. Experience shows that a regular spot each week and that the weekly interval is most useful. The number of sessions is very much reliant on the nature of the issues being discussed and they may be over weeks, months or even years.

Sexual Abuse:

This is where the abuse takes a specifically sexual nature but it shares the concept with other forms of abuse that the victim is made to do things that they might otherwise choose not to. Sexual abuse includes unwanted sex, unreasonable demands for sex and the mechanics of the abuser to have sex with the abused. Sexual abuse can happen to minors and to adults, outside and within relationships.

Sexual Addiction:

An addiction is where a dependency and a withdrawal affect takes over from normal life and sexual addiction is no different – causing the sufferer to have social or relationship problems due to an obsessive need. It may be a result of an attempt to escape from difficult circumstances in other areas of one’s life.

Shopping Addiction: Oniomania: Compulsive Buying Disorder:

A surprisingly common addiction or compulsion with up to 10% of Western populations suffering. This is a compulsive disorder where addicts cannot resist impulse. Like other addictions, it often shields the sufferer from difficult emotional feelings about themselves and gives a form of escape.


An overwhelming and anxiety ridden pressure, felt or unfelt – leading to negative physical and psychological health issues. (Normal levels of stress can be positive in terms of motivation and incentive.) Some stress can be purely external and event-driven but many cases are from internal perceptions and feelings – or it may be a combination of the two – and it is often triggered by certain difficult circumstances or situations.

Suicidal Ideation:

Thoughts of suicide and the overwhelming desire to take one’s own life.


Talking Therapy:

Psychotherapy is reliant on talking and this is mostly the client talking while the therapist gently steers the conversation as appropriate.  “Talking therapy”, is where the counsellor and the client talk and explore the background to mental health issues. This helps the client gain an understanding of the causes and of ways to cope. It is usually a series of weekly sessions over several weeks. Talking therapy means that there is no medicinal intervention or prescription.


In the context of psychotherapy, a therapist is a variant of the title “psychotherapist” but a therapist has not necessarily had the full 5 years training. (Therapy can of course be applied to other areas of health such as physical or medical therapies.) Therapy itself means a remedy to a health problem, synonymous with “treatment”


The course of counselling or psychotherapy where a solution or a positive outcome is pursued. Therapy aims at a remedy for the client’s problem.


This is the damage done to an individual following an intensively stressful event – whether witnessed or involved. The issue arises because the stress is too great to deal with. Stressful situations can include violations of one’s ethics, personal freedoms, or from confusion or insecurity. Trauma leads to an inability to deal with the overwhelmed emotions but the trauma may not become apparent until later. Therapy can help explain and understand trauma which can otherwise lead to various negative but unconscious strategies by the victim to avoid the painful reminders.

See also Post Traumatic Stress Disorder





This is a relatively modern description of a person’s whole condition, physically, spiritually and mentally – of which a large part is their emotional adjustment and functionality. The ambition is to have a positive wellbeing. It is synonymous with welfare/wellness. The word can be hyphenated as well-being.