top of page
Reading a Book

Counselling Terms Glossary

Find out more about the most common terms and acronyms used in psychotherapy and counselling:


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): A type of counselling and a branch of clinical behaviour analysis that helps a person accept stressful events, and uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies along with commitment and behavior-change strategies to increase psychological flexibility.
Acting Out: Self-abusive, aggressive, violent and/or disruptive behavior

Addiction: An addiction occurs when you cannot permanently stop yourself from doing something.

Adolescence: Period of growth and development from puberty to maturity.

Affect: describes observable behavior that represents an emotion. Common examples of affect are sadness, fear, joy, and anger.

Agitation: Excessive motor activity that accompanies and is associated with a feeling of inner tension.

Agoraphobia: Anxiety about being in places or situations in which escape might be difficult or embarrassing, or in which help may not be available should a panic attack occur.

Alienation: The estrangement felt in a setting one views as foreign, unpredictable, or unacceptable.

Ambivalence: The coexistence of contradictory emotions, attitudes, ideas, or desires with respect to a particular person, object, or situation.

Anger: The experience of intense annoyance that inspires hostile and aggressive thoughts and actions.

Anxiety: is a complex combination of negative emotions that includes fear apprehension and worry.

Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety disorders cause intense feelings of anxiety and tension when there is no real danger. The symptoms cause significant distress and interfere with daily activities.

Apathy: lack of feeling, emotion, interest, or concern.

Asperger’s Syndrome: A neurobiological pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), which is characterised by normal intelligence and language development, but deficiencies in social and communication skills.

Attachment: Attachment can be defined as a deep and enduring emotional bond between two people in which each seeks closeness and feels more secure when in the presence of the attachment figure. 

Attachment Theory: a lifespan model of human development emphasising the central role of caregivers (attachment figures) who provide a sense of safety and security. Attachment theory hypothesises that early caregiver relationships establish social–emotional developmental foundations, but change remains possible across the lifespan due to interpersonal relationships during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Attachment Style: Refers to an individual's general ways of relating to others. The 4 attachment styles are either insecure (anxious, avoidant adn disorganised) or secure (secure):

  1. Anxious (also referred to as Preoccupied): People with this attachment style value their relationships highly, but are often hypervigilant towards threats to their security, as well as anxious and worried that their loved one is not as invested in the relationship as they are.

  2. Avoidant (also referred to as Dismissive): Adults with this attachment style generally avoid intimacy or emotional closeness, so may withdraw from a relationship if they feel like the other person is becoming reliant on them in this manner. 

  3. Disorganised (also referred to as Fearful-Avoidant): For adults with disorganised attachment, the partner and the relationship themselves are often the source of both desire and fear. On the one hand, fearful-avoidant people do want intimacy and closeness, but on the other hand, experience troubles trusting and depending on others.

  4. Secure: Secure attachers tend to have a positive view of themselves and others, so they do not overly seek external approval or validation–they can successfully identify and regulate their emotions, and even help a partner do so with theirs.

Attention: The ability to focus in a sustained manner on a particular stimulus or activity.

Attention Deficit / Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorders: An attention-deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) is a developmental disorder characterized by developmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, hyper/over activity, and impulsivity.

Autism: A childhood disorder usually appearing by the age of three, which is characterized by withdrawal, self-stimulation, cognitive deficits and language disorders.

Bereavement: A reaction to the death of a loved one (e.g., feelings of sadness and associated symptoms such as insomnia, poor appetite and weight loss).

Body image: Sense of one’s self and one’s body.

Coaching: Assists with transitions in their personal life, and in the process of self-actualisation.

Cognitive: Pertaining to thoughts or thinking. Cognitive disorders are disorders of thinking; for example, schizophrenia.

Cognitive Behavioal Therapy (CBT): Cognitive behaviour therapy aims to identify and correct distorted thinking patterns that can lead to feelings and behaviors that may be troublesome, self-defeating, or even self-destructive.

Confrontation: A communication that deliberately pressures or invites another to self-examine some aspect of behavior in which there is a discrepancy between self-reported and observed behavior.

Coping mechanisms: ways of adjusting to environmental stress without altering one’s goals or purposes; includes both conscious and unconscious mechanisms.

Counsellor: a person trained to give expert guidance on personal or psychological problems.

Counselling: Professional counselling is a safe and confidential collaboration between qualified counsellors and clients to promote mental health and wellbeing, enhance self-understanding, and resolve identified concerns and may be short term, long term, or over a lifetime, according to clients’ needs.

Defense mechanism: Automatic psychological process that protects the individual against anxiety and from awareness of internal or external stressors or dangers.

Delusions: Gross misrepresentations of reality which are a common symptom of schizophrenia and other psychoses. Typical delusions include those of persecution, romance, grandeur, and control.

Denial: A defense mechanism in which a feeling or wish is blocked by the person because conscious admission of the thought or feeling would be too painful.

Depression: A mood disorder involving disturbances in emotion (excessive sadness), behavior (apathy and loss of interest in usual activities), cognition (distorted thoughts of hopelessness and low self-esteem), and body function (fatigue, loss of appetite). Two neurotransmitters/natural substances that allow brain cells to communicate with one another-are implicated in depression: serotonin and norepinephrine.

Detachment: A behavior pattern characterized by general aloofness in interpersonal contact; may include intellectualization, denial, and superficiality.

Developmental Disorders: Serious delays in the development of one or more areas of functioning.

Dopamine: A neurotransmitter in the brain.

DSM-IV: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition.

Dysphoric mood: An unpleasant mood, such as sadness, anxiety, or irritability.

Dissociation: A disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment. 

Distractibility: The inability to maintain attention; that is, the shifting from one area or topic to another with minimal provocation, or attention being drawn too frequently to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli.

Dyslexia: Inability or difficulty in reading, including word-blindness and a tendency to reverse letters and words in reading and writing.

Early intervention: A process used to recognise warning signs for mental health problems and to take early action against factors that put individuals at risk. Early intervention can help individuals get better in less time and can prevent problems from becoming worse.

Eating disorders: eating behaviors all associated with misusing food for emotional reasons. They range from chronic dieting to compulsive overeating and often involve behaviors ranging from bingeing and purging to self-starvation.

Elevated mood: An exaggerated feeling of well-being, or euphoria or elation.

Emotions: Emotions are short-lived expressions which stem from a known cause. They are often a physical reaction to something that is happening, for instance crying when an individual suddenly feels pain. It is suggested we have six basic emotions: sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

Emotional abuse: A serious mistreatment of another person’s feelings or emotional needs.

Endorphins: Chemicals in the brain that influence moods and the experience of pain.

Euthymia: A person’s normal mood state.

Euthymic: Mood in the “normal” range, which implies the absence of depressed or elevated mood.

Expansive mood: Lack of restraint in expressing one’s feelings, frequently with an overvaluation of one’s significance or importance.

Family Therapy: A therapeutic method which involves assessment and treatment with all immediate family members present. This therapy places emphasis on the family as a system rather than focusing on one person who might be deemed the identified patient.

Flat affect: An affect type that indicates the absence of signs of affective expression.

Feelings: Are reactions to the emotional stimulus. Feelings form when your brain assigns meaning to the emotional experience that you are having. Because they are based on an emotional experience, they can be subjective and vary from person to person. Looking at the six universal emotions (sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust) you can attach the words feel, felt, or feeling to any of them. For example, you can feel happy or angry. However, these feelings are more specific than broad emotional responses and may encompass more variety. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): An anxiety disorder which results in a continuous state of anxiety or fear, lasting a month or more, marked by signs of motor tension, autonomic hyperactivity (a pounding heart), constant apprehension, and difficulties in concentration.

Goal: In counselling, a goal is an outcome that you’d like to achieve. You therapist can help you identify a specific goal(s) and create a treatment plan, so you achieve the outcomes you’re looking for.

Grandiosity: An inflated appraisal of one’s worth, power, knowledge, importance, or identity.

Hallucinations: Abnormal auditory (hearing), olfactory (smelling), visual (seeing), gustatory (tasting), or kinesthetic (feeling) perceptions.

Hyperactivity: Behavior marked by high levels of activity and restlessness.

Individual Therapy: Therapy tailored for a patient/client that is administered one-on-one

Language Disorder: A lag in the ability to understand or express ideas that puts linguistic skill significantly behind an individual’s development in other areas.

Learning Disabilities: Impairment in a specific mental process which affects learning.

Lethargy: A feeling of tiredness, drowsiness or lack of energy.

Low Self-esteem: Low self-esteem is when someone lacks confidence about who they are and what they can do. They often feel incompetent, unloved, or inadequate. People who struggle with low self-esteem are consistently afraid about making mistakes or letting other people down.

Marriage Therapy: A treatment in which a therapist consults with both the husband and wife to help them learn to communicate better, to provide more support to each other, and to understand their interactions.

Melancholy: Symptoms usually found in severe major depressive episodes, including loss of pleasure, lethargy, weight loss and insomnia.

Mental Health: How a person thinks, feels, and acts when faced with life’s situations.

Mood: A pervasive and sustained emotion that affects the perception of the world.

Neurotransmitters: Chemicals in the brain used to transfer messages from one nerve cell to another, affecting mood.

NDIS: The National Disability Insurance Scheme (the NDIS) provides funding to eligible people with disability to gain more time with family and friends, greater independence, access to new skills, jobs, or volunteering in their community, and an improved quality of life.

Obsessions: unwanted, unpleasant, and intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of the obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferer and cause a high degree of anxiety. Some examples of obsessions include fear of being contaminated with germs, repeated doubts (is the stove on?), aggressive impulses, or sexual images.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A neurobiological anxiety disorder.

Oppositional-Defiant Disorder: A disorder of early to middle childhood that may evolve into a conduct disorder usually diagnosed before the age of twelve; children with oppositional defiant disorder defy adult rules, are angry, and often lose their tempers

Panic Attack / Panic Disorders: A stress-related, brief feeling of intense fear and impending doom or death, accompanied by intense physiological symptoms such as rapid breathing and pulse, sweaty palms, smothering sensations, shortness of breath, choking sensations, and dizziness.

Person-Centred Therapy: Person-centered therapy, which focuses on the client's needs rather than providing an in-depth study of the challenges or the client's current thoughts and actions based on past experiences, creates an environment in which individuals can make independent decisions and encourages them to strive for self-actualisation.

Personal Growth: sometimes referred to as self growth or personal development, is a process of developing new skills, attitudes, actions, or reactions that can have a positive impact on your life and increase your overall well-being. 

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified (PPDnos): A diagnosis which is often given when all the criteria for autism or Asperger’s syndrome have not been met but the child’s difficulties are of the kind found within the spectrum of autistic disorder.

Phobia: Persistent fear of specific things or situations, which leads to avoidance of such things or situations.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD): An anxiety disorder in which symptoms develop following a psychologically distressing event that is outside the normal range of human experiences (military combat, sexual assault, natural disasters, severe auto accidents).

Psychological flexibility: When we are rigid in our emotions, behaviors, and thoughts we experience psychological inflexibility.  Psychological inflexibility is a risk factor for experiencing mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. Moreover it can prevent us from living in a way that is intentionally aligned with our own values and goals.

Psychosocial: Involving both psychological and social aspects or relating social conditions to mental health.

Psychotherapy: The treatment of mental disorders, emotional problems, and personality difficulties through talking with a therapist. 

Rage: A state of intense emotional experience associated with uncontrolled destructive behavior.

Relationship: Particular type of connection between two or more entities or phenomena. A binding, usually continuous association between individuals wherein one has some influence on feelings or actions of the other.

School Phobia: An anxiety disorder characterised by inappropriate fear of attending school; this phobic behavior often represents a dependency problem that is reinforced by parental attention.

Self-esteemSelf-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves. It's based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves, which can feel difficult to change. We might also think of this as self-confidence.

Separation Anxiety: Intense anxiety experienced by children whenever they are separated from their parents..

Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT): an effective approach that puts emphasis on a person's present and future situation. It is a goal-oriented approach that usually does not concentrate on the issues or symptoms which caused the person to look for help. Focus is on the existing strengths and resources of the client, in order to help them reach their desired goal.

Spectrum disorder: In a spectrum disorder the symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe.

Strength-Based Therapy: a type of positive psychotherapy and counseling that focuses on your internal strengths and resourcefulness, rather than on your weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings.

Substance Abuse: Misuse of medications, alcohol or other illegal substances.

Suicidal behavior: Actions taken by one who is considering or preparing to cause their own death.

Suicidal ideation: Thoughts of suicide or wanting to take one’s life.

Suicide: The intentional taking of one’s life.

Suicide attempt: An act focused on taking one’s life that is unsuccessful in causing death.

Support Plan: A support plan (also known as a care plan) is required where a person with a disability is accessing an ongoing disability service. A support plan is developed between a person with a disability and the disability service providing them with support.

Suppression: The conscious effort to control and conceal unacceptable impulses, thoughts, feelings, or acts.

Withdrawal: refers to the characteristic signs and symptoms that appear when a drug that causes a physical dependency is regularly used for a long time and then suddenly discontinued or decreased in dosage.​

Wellbeing: Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.

Image by Yoko Saito


bottom of page