Glossary of Therapy Terms

There are lots of terms you might come across while reading about mental health or searching for a therapist. Here's a basic glossary of some common psychology terms, so you have a better idea of what they mean. I hope you find this helpful. 

Amygdala A part of your brain that's involved in processing senses and emotions. It's often talked about in relation to fear responses.

Attachment In early life, it's the bond between a baby and their caregiver. Later in life, attachment styles describe how comfortable or anxious people are in relationships with others.

Bottom-up These approaches or types of therapy help clients process trauma by focusing on the lower parts of the brain, which are involved in sensations and physical arousal.

Client-centred or Person-centred Approach to therapy based on the humanistic psychotherapy style of Carl Rogers. This approach to therapy focuses on what the client's values and goals are. The client is the centre of the therapy.

Dissociation Is a feeling of disconnection from your feelings, thoughts, personal history of experiences, current situation, or sense of self. It can be something like spacing out while you daydream, or a response to trauma. In more severe dissociation, people can re-experience flashbacks, have out-of-body experiences or feel like things aren't real. There are actually many symptoms of dissociation, despite the term commonly being used to describe spacing out. (Source: Choosing Therapy)

Evidence-based Therapies that have been extensively researched and tested for efficacy. There is scientific evidence to show they are effective for many people. 

Executive functioning Occurs in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It involves things like decision-making, controlling impulses, and problem-solving.

Fight-Flight-Freeze Instinctive responses to perceived or actual threat; the responses are your brain's way of ensuring you survive the threat. Often mentioned along with the amygdala. Fight means you're ready to defend yourself, flight means you're ready to escape, and freeze means you stay still. In terms of anxiety, freezing is when your brain goes blank.

Grounding Techniques intended to help you focus on being in the present moment and realizing you are safe. These strategies are used in times of distress, like high anxiety or PTSD flashbacks. 

Somatic Therapies focused on the involvement of the body in processing psychological issues, trauma. Body movement, sensations, posture, etc. are part of the therapy. 

Top-down The opposite of bottom-up approaches to therapy. Top-down therapies focus on the top part of the brain (the cortex), which is involved in things like thoughts, interpretations of situations, and beliefs about yourself.

Trauma-informed An approach to therapy (and all interactions with people) that recognizes almost everyone has likely experienced some form of trauma (based on statistics and how widespread the effects of trauma are on society and cultures). Service workers and therapists who are trauma-informed can be expected to be understanding of how trauma affects people and how avoid re-traumatizing them. They are familiar with trauma responses and they view people's reactions, behaviours, etc. as likely being part of how they cope with their trauma.

Trauma-focused Therapies that are used to help clients process trauma and reduce PTSD symptoms.

Sources consulted for glossary: Psychology Today, Choosing Therapy, National Institutes for Health, University at Buffalo, Simply Psychology