Therapy Terms

When speaking with a therapist you may run into terms or words that we don’t hear every day, below is a list of definitions for these terms to help you out.  As always don’t be afraid to stop your therapist to explain these terms in more details to you during your sessions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – A form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. It focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): A comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. It combines standard cognitive behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from Buddhist meditative practice.

Psychodynamic Therapy: A therapeutic approach rooted in recognizing and understanding negative patterns of behavior and feelings which are rooted in past experiences and working through them.

Humanistic Therapy: This approach emphasizes looking at the whole individual and stresses concepts such as free will, self-efficacy, and self-actualization. It encourages patients to think about their feelings and take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): A modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises.

Exposure Therapy: A form of CBT which is used to treat anxiety disorders. It involves the exposure to the feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): A short-term supportive psychotherapy that focuses on interpersonal relations and social functioning to bring about symptom relief.

Narrative Therapy: A method of therapy that separates the person from the problem and encourages people to rely on their own skill sets to minimize the problems that exist in their everyday lives.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): A form of counseling and a branch of clinical behavior analysis. It is an empirically-based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior-change strategies.

Trauma: This refers to an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. In therapy, it’s often the starting point for discussing PTSD symptoms.

Flashbacks: These are vivid, often distressing, memories of a traumatic event that can come back at any time. They may feel like you are going through the trauma all over again.

Triggers: These are stimuli that remind you of the traumatic event, such as sounds, smells, or sights, and can cause PTSD symptoms to surface.

Dissociation: This is a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity, often as a protective measure against traumatic memories.

Hypervigilance: A state of increased alertness. If you have PTSD, you may experience hypervigilance as a response to feeling constantly ‘on guard,’ or overly aware of potential threats.

Avoidance: This is a common behavior for those with PTSD, where the person actively avoids thoughts, feelings, conversations, places, people, and activities that may trigger distressing memories.

Resilience: This refers to the ability to cope with and bounce back from difficult experiences. It can be strengthened through therapy.

Coping Strategies: Techniques that help manage symptoms and stress. Therapists often help clients develop these strategies to deal with PTSD symptoms effectively.

Grounding Techniques: These are strategies used to detach from emotional pain (e.g., flashbacks). Examples include mental distractions, physical sensations, or focusing on the external environment.

Bilateral Stimulation: This is a core element of EMDR therapy that involves engaging both hemispheres of the brain through rhythmic, left-right stimulation. This can be done through guided eye movements, auditory tones, or tactile taps or buzzes.

SUD Level (Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale): A scale from 0 to 10 used to measure the intensity of disturbance or distress that you feel when thinking about a traumatic event or memory.

VOC Scale (Validity of Cognition Scale): Used to measure the believability of a positive cognition on a scale of 1 to 7. It helps the therapist understand how fully you believe the positive statements you make after processing the traumatic memory.

Target: Refers to the specific traumatic memory or disturbing event that is being focused on during an EMDR session.

Safe Place or Calm Place Visualization: A technique used in EMDR where you visualize a place where you feel safe, calm, and happy. This mental imagery can help bring relief during or after processing difficult memories.

Reprocessing: The aspect of EMDR where you address and work through the traumatic memory with the goal of reducing its psychological impact.

Desensitization: The process within EMDR therapy aimed at reducing or eliminating the emotional charge associated with traumatic memories.

Installation: The phase in EMDR where the therapist helps to strengthen the preferred positive belief that you’ve identified to replace the negative belief associated with the traumatic memory.

Body Scan: After reprocessing a memory, the therapist will ask you to observe your physical response while thinking about the event and the positive belief, to identify any residual somatic distress.

Floatback Technique: A technique where the therapist helps you to identify past memories that are related to the current target memory, which may also need reprocessing.

Closure: The end phase of an EMDR session where the therapist will help you return to a state of equilibrium, regardless of where you are in the reprocessing of the target memory.

Resourcing: Building up internal resources and coping mechanisms before beginning the reprocessing phases of EMDR. This can include establishing a ‘safe place,’ and learning self-control and calming techniques.