Mental Health Glossary of Terms

Mental Health Glossary of Terms

Last Update: 5 JUNE 2018

This glossary aims to provide a quick reference for anybody seeking to understand terms commonly used by mental health services. If you're worried about a mental health problem affecting you, a friend or family you can use our site to find a mental health professional in your area.


Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a form of behavioural therapy, developed in the late 1980’s, that combines the practice of acceptance with mindfulness strategies.


Anger management

Anger management is the process of learning to recognize signs that you're becoming angry, and taking action to calm down and deal with the situation in a productive way.


Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a complex eating disorder that has significant physical consequences. Those with the condition are typically defined as having a low body weight caused by restrictive or erratic eating patterns.


Antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial personality disorder, sometimes called sociopathy, is a mental condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others.


Attachment disorder

Attachment disorder is a mental and emotional condition brought on as a result of failure to form an appropriate bond with parents or guardians in early childhood. Children with attachment disorder have difficulty trusting others.



Anxiety is a broad term for many underlying disorders including phobias, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).


Art therapy

This form of psychotherapy encourages individuals to use artistic materials, such as clay, paints or paper, as tools to help them communicate their emotions, thoughts and feelings.


Avoidant personality disorder

Individuals with Avoidant personality disorder are often misunderstood. Sufferers have an intense fear of being inadequate, unliked or humiliated. They avoid most social activities and become very isolated and lonely.


Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy is an umbrella term for types of therapy that treat mental health disorders. This form of therapy seeks to identify and help change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviours.


Binge-eating disorder

People with binge eating disorder will regularly (at least once a week) eat large quantities of food rapidly in a short period of time and feel out of control and unable to stop themselves from eating.


Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder (formally known as manic depression) is a diagnosable mental illness. People who have this condition experience dramatic fluctuations in energy and mood from very intense highs to very deep lows – the ‘manic’ state and the ‘depressive’ state.


Body dysmorphic disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder in which you can't stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable. 


Borderline personality disorder

People affected by BPD have difficulty managing their emotions and impulses, relating to people and maintaining a stable self-image.


Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a psychological and severe life-threatening eating disorder described by the ingestion of an abnormally large amount of food in short time period, followed by an attempt to avoid gaining weight by purging what was consumed.


Bush adventure therapy

Bush Adventure Therapy is a diverse field of practice combining adventure and outdoor environments with the intention to achieve therapeutic outcomes for those involved.



A clinician is somebody that provides care and treatment to patients, such as a Nurse, Psychiatrist or Psychologist.


Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) merges concepts from analytical psychology and cognitive therapy. The aim of the therapy is to help the person understand how their current patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour have been influenced by past experiences and events.


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most widely used ‘talking therapies’ in the world today. It involves having regular sessions with a qualified therapist in a safe, neutral environment. 


Compulsive hoarding

Compulsive hoarding and acquiring involves the acquisition of, and inability to discard, a vast number of possessions. Hoarding behaviour has a strong relationship with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and it is estimated that 25-30% of individuals diagnosed with OCD have symptoms of compulsive hoarding.



Counselling is a form of ‘talking-therapy that people seek when they want to change something that is concerning them in their daily life, or they want help to explore and understand their thoughts and feelings at a deeper level.



A counsellor is a trained, objective professional with whom you can build a therapeutic and trusting relationship. They are trained to offer talk-based therapy.



Dementia is a term to describe the deterioration of mental functionality, such as memory, language and judgement.


Dependent personality disorder

DPD is a type of personality disorder characterised by excessive anxious or needy behaviour. Sufferers lack self-confidence and look to others for approval and direction. Overwhelming feelings of isolation and helplessness contribute to a heightened level of anxiety making normal daily activities very difficult.



Depression is a common medical condition. It can cause a low mood that doesn't go away and makes us feel very sad or withdrawn. It interferes with the way we go about our everyday lives and can make it hard to cope.


Drama therapy

Drama therapy is another form of psychological therapy. It allows people to use acting and performance techniques as a means of expression and helps them to address any difficult or underlying issues in an indirect manner.


Eating disorders

An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterised by eating, exercise and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy preoccupation of someone's life. Eating disorders can take many different forms and interfere with a person’s day to day life.



Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.

Equine assisted therapy

Equine assisted therapy is a healing treatment that combines credentialed mental health professionals and one or more therapeutic horses. Through activities with horses, clients are guided in working through difficulties and improving communication and relationship skills.


Existential therapy

Existential therapy is a unique form of psychotherapy that looks to explore difficulties from a philosophical perspective, rather than taking a technique-based approach.


Family counselling

Family counselling (sometimes called family therapy or systemic therapy) is a structured approach to help families to improve their relationships and manage change as a team.


Generalised anxiety disorder

People GAD is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things.  They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.


Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz Perls (1893–1970) and it focuses on insight into gestalts in patients and their relations to the world, and often uses role playing to aid the resolution of past conflicts.


Group therapy

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves one or more therapists working with several people at the same time. The sessions help to foster support and a sense of belonging amongst the group members.


Histrionic personality disorder

For people with histrionic personality disorder, their self-esteem depends on the approval of others and does not arise from a true feeling of self-worth. They have an overwhelming desire to be noticed, and often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention. The word histrionic means "dramatic or theatrical."


Human givens psychotherapy

This form of therapy is based on the premise that all humans have basic needs (or ‘givens’). These are divided into physical and emotional needs.  When these needs are not met, it affects a person’s mental well-being.



Hypnotherapy is the practice of assisting an individual to relax the conscious part of the mind and reach a hypnotic state. In this state it is possible to engage more closely with the subconscious mind and use positive suggestions to bring about changes in thoughts, feelings or behaviour.


Integrative therapy

Integrative therapy, or integrative counselling is a combined approach to psychotherapy that brings together different elements of specific therapies. Integrative therapists take the view that there is no single approach that can treat each client in all situations.


Interpersonal psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a brief, attachment-focused psychotherapy that centres on resolving interpersonal problems and symptomatic recovery. It is an empirically supported treatment (EST) that follows a highly structured and time-limited approach and is intended to be completed within 12–16 weeks.


Jungian therapy

In Jungian therapy, the analyst and patient work together to bring unconscious elements of the psyche into a more balanced relationship with conscious awareness and experience in an effort to discover meaning, improve mental health or provide relief to psychological suffering. 


Marriage counselling

Marriage counselling is a form of talk therapy aimed at helping both partners to improve and maintain an intimate relationship. It is different to other forms of counselling for relationship issues as they can be conducted with individuals. 


Mental health

A state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.


Mental illness

A clinically diagnosable disorder that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. The diagnosis of mental illness is generally made according to the classification systems of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)


Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines cognitive behavioral techniques with mindfulness strategies in order to help individuals better understand and manage their thoughts and emotions in order to achieve relief from feelings of distress.


Music therapy

Music therapy uses music to actively support people as they strive to improve their health, functioning and wellbeing. This type of therapy is facilitated by a trained therapist and is often used in hospitals, rehabilitation centres, schools, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and hospices.


Narcissistic personality disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health issue that usually forms in the teenage years or early adulthood. They have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and accomplishments. They have a number of obsessions, compulsions and addictions that help to feed their ego.


Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

This is a condition where sufferers become pre-occupied with rituals, routines and perfectionism to the point where it has a negative impact on their daily life. The condition is not to be confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is a mental illness associated with anxiety.


Panic disorder

Panic and anxiety are natural responses to stressful or dangerous situations. Panic Disorder is the term used when a person has recurring and disabling panic attacks. Because the attacks can seem to come ‘out of nowhere’ and develop rapidly they can be frightening. 


Paranoid personality disorder

Paranoid personality disorder (PPD) is a mental disorder characterised by paranoia and a pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalized mistrust of others. Individuals with this disorder assume that other people will exploit, harm, or deceive them, even if no evidence exists to support this expectation.


Passive aggressive behaviour

Passive Aggressive Behaviour was originally officially classified as a personality disorder; however, it is now so commonly seen it is regarded as a general behaviour type. It is an indirect expression of hostility though negative actions and attitudes.


Person-centred therapy

This form of therapy is centred on the individual person. The therapist tries to gain an understanding of how their client perceives themselves. Treatment involves the exploration of these blockages through discussion and it also helps the person to reconnect with their inner values and find ways to move forward.


Personality disorder

A personality disorder is a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behaviour of a specified kind, typically apparent by the time of adolescence, causing long-term difficulties in personal relationships or in functioning in society.



Phobias are another form of anxiety disorder. A phobia is an exaggerated fear of a common object or situation (known as a phobic trigger). They can vary in intensity from mild to severe and debilitating.


Play therapy

Play therapy is used as a vehicle for children, especially very young ones, to express themselves at their own level and pace. They are often given a range of toys or art materials to play with under the guidance of an experienced therapist.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

This is a form of anxiety disorder. Some people develop this condition after they have experienced a traumatic event. This event might be a serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war or torture, or a natural disaster such as a bushfire or a flood.


Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression (PND) is when a woman experiences depression that develops between one month and up to one year after the birth of a baby. Postnatal depression affects up to one in seven women (almost 16 per cent) giving birth in Australia.



A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness with a focus in disorders such as a chemical imbalance.



Psychoanalysis aims to treat mental disorders by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind and bringing repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind by techniques such as dream interpretation and free association.


Psychoanalytic therapy

This approach is based on psychoanalysis and also looks at how long-held and subconscious thought patterns affect behaviour in later life. The main difference between the two approaches is that this form is generally less intensive.


Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy evolved from psychoanalytic therapy. Although it also looks at subconscious thought patterns and their effect on behaviour, it deals more with immediate concerns and aims to provide faster resolutions.



Psychologists are experts in human behaviour. They use scientific methods to study the factors that influence the way that people think, feel and learn, and evidence-based strategies and interventions to help people to overcome challenges and improve their performance.


Psychosexual therapy

Psychosexual therapy, known as PST, is a specific form of couples therapy. It openly addresses issues such as sexual dysfunction, emotional blocks or lack of communication about sexual problems within a relationship.



Psychotherapists work within a clearly contracted, principled relationship that enables individuals to obtain assistance in exploring and resolving issues of an interpersonal, intrapsychic, or personal nature.



Psychosis is a mental disorder where a person loses the capacity to tell what’s real from what isn’t. They may believe or sense things that aren’t real, and become confused or slow in their thinking.



Psychosynthesis attempts to broaden the basis of Freud’s "talking cure" approach by integrating imagination, will, and intuition into traditional therapy. Psychosynthesis has many practical applications and is often used in education, business, psychology, and spirituality.


Reality therapy

This approach is centred on the ‘here and now’. It assumes that someone who is experiencing mental distress is not suffering from mental illness but rather that their basic universal psychological needs are not being met. These include the need for fun, love and survival.


Relationship counselling

Relationship counselling is the process of counselling the parties of a human relationship in an effort to recognise, and to better manage or reconcile, troublesome differences and repeating patterns of stress upon the relationship.


Schizoid personality disorder

Schizoid personality disorder refers to individuals who generally prefer solitary activities as result of fear and avoid emotions. 



Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to think clearly and distinguish fantasy from reality. 


Schizotypal personality disorder

Schizotypal personality disorder refers to individuals who generally prefer solitary activities as result of fear and avoid of other people.


Social worker

Social work is an academic and practice-based professional discipline that seeks to facilitate the welfare of communities, individuals, families, and groups.


Solution focused brief therapy

This approach is sometimes known simply as solution or brief therapy. Therapists help individuals determine what they specifically want to achieve and guide them in uncovering their personal strengths and resources. Together they can develop a plan to reach the desired goal or goals.


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often known as seasonal depression, is a mood disorder that has a seasonal pattern. It usually occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in autumn/winter and ending in spring, or early summer.



Stress can be defined as the way you feel when you’re under extensive pressure. Many situations can cause stress including relationships, work demands, financial worries and so on.


Family/systemic therapy

Family therapy, also referred to as systemic therapy, is an approach that works with families and those who are in close relationships to foster change. These changes are viewed in terms of the systems of interaction between each person in the family or relationship.


Transactional analysis

Transactional analysis is based on the idea that one's behaviour and social relationships reflect an interchange between parental (critical and nurturing), adult (rational), and childlike (intuitive and dependent) aspects of personality established early in life.


Transpersonal psychology

Transpersonal psychology is a sub-field or "school" of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology. It is also possible to define it as a "spiritual psychology".



Psychological trauma may set in after a distressing or life-threatening event. Sufferers may develop extreme anxiety or PTSD, or they may have ongoing problems with relationships and self-esteem. But many overcome trauma, offering inspiration to others who have had life-altering negative experiences.

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