Mental Health Terms and Definitions

Below is a list of terms and definitions commonly used in the mental health field

Apathy: Showing lack of interest, or indifference; lacking feeling.

Autistic: A form of thinking which attempts to gratify unfulfilled desires without due regard for reality. Objective facts are distorted, obscured, or excluded to varying degrees

Blocking: Difficulty in recollection, or interruption of a train of thought or speech, due to emotional factors usually unconscious.

Circumstantial: A characteristic of conversation that proceeds indirectly to its goal idea, with many tedious details and parenthetical and irrelevant additions.

Clang Associations: Associations that are governed by rhyming sounds, rather than meaning, e.g., “This what I thought, bought, knot, caught, rot, sought.”

Compulsion: An insistent, repetitive, intrusive, and unwanted urge to perform an act which is contrary to the person’s ordinary conscious wishes or standards. A defensive substitute for hidden and still more unacceptable ideas and wishes. Anxiety results from failure

Confabulation: The more or less unconscious, defensive “filling in” of actual experiences, often complex, that is recounted in a detailed and plausible way as though they were factual

Delusion: A false belief out of keeping with the individual’s level of knowledge and his cultural group. The belief is maintained against logical argument and despite objective contradictory evidence.

Delusion of Grandeur: Exaggerated belief of one’s importance or identity.

Delusion of Persecution: The belief that one had been singled out for persecution

Delusion of Reference: The belief that someone is communicating with you subliminally

Depersonalization: Feelings of unreality or strangeness concerning either the environment or the self

Dissociation: A psychological separation or splitting off; an intrapsychic defensive process which operates automatically and unconsciously. Through its operation, emotional significance and affect are separated and detached from an idea, situation, or object.

Euphoria: An exaggerated feeling of physical and emotional well-being not consonant with apparent stimuli or events; usually of psychologic origin, but also seen in organic brain disease and toxic states

Flattened Affect: Displaying an abnormally small range of emotional expression

Flight of Ideas: Verbal skipping from one idea to another before the last one has been concluded; the ideas appear to be continuous, but are fragmentary and determined by chance associations

Hallucinations: A false sensory perception in the absence of an actual external stimulus; may be of emotional or external chemical (drugs, alcohol, etc.) origin, and may occur in any of the five senses.

Illusion: The misinterpretation of a real, external sensory experience

Inappropriate Affect: Emotional expressions that are not in accord with the Affect situation, or what is being said, e.g., giggling when talking about the death of a parent

Insight: Self-understanding; a major goal of psychotherapy; the extent of the individual’s understanding of the origin, nature, and mechanisms of his attitudes and behavior. More superficially, recognition by the patient that he is mentally ill. The extent to which the patient realizes that he or she suffers from an illness or from personal difficulties and to the extent to which he or she recognizes the need for treatment.

Neologism: In psychiatry, a new word or condensed combination of several words coined by a patient to express a highly complex meaning related to his conflicts; not readily understood by others; common in schizophrenia

Obsession: Persistent, unwanted idea or impulse that cannot be eliminated by logic or reasoning.

Orientation: Awareness of oneself in relation to time, place and person.

Perseveration (Stereotype): Persistent, mechanical repetition of an activity, common in schizophrenia.

Phobia: An obsessive, persistent, unrealistic fear of an external object or situation such as heights, open spaces, dirt, and animals. The fear is believed to arise through a process of displacing an internal (unconscious) conflict to an external object.

Mood: describes the general emotional state from the patient’s perspective. This involves feelings at the time of the examination and a few hours preceding it. Best way to assess is to ask the patient directly.

Affect: the objective assessment of the emotional expression of the patient.

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How did it go?


  • What was your internal dialogue like?
  • What were the voices in your head saying?
  • Were they mean? Were they positive or negative?
  • Describe what you noticed.






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