Mental health glossary: Terms you should know

By Julie McDaniel, MSN, RN, CRN Jul 18, 2022 • 12 min

One in 5 Americans will experience a mental health issue this year.

Here's a list of common terms, therapy types and providers that can help you and your family live a healthy, happier life.

If you or someone you know is considering therapy, you can learn about different types of therapists  or video chat live with a therapist for an introductory consultation today.

Benzodiazepines. This commonly used anti-anxiety medication typically works quickly and can be taken effectively during an anxiety attack.

Certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor. These are counselors who are specially trained to assist people with addiction prevention, treatment, recovery support and education. The level of the certification is dependent on education and experience, varying by state.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychological treatment that focuses on helping a person recognize and change unhealthy or negative thinking patterns by learning ways to implement positive behaviors, redirect thoughts and develop better coping skills.

Mental health counselor or therapist. Mental health counselors (therapists) are trained healthcare professionals who evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques for treatment, based on specific training programs.

Creative arts therapists. These therapists and counselors are master-level professionals who guide people that are facing medical and mental health problems or seeking personal growth by using creative self-expression techniques such as music, drama, movement and art.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential support, prevention and crisis resources for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can text or call 988, or visit Lifeline ( to chat for help for yourself or a loved one.

Peer crisis counselor or lifeline workers and nonlicensed volunteers. Peer crisis counselors are volunteers who offer mental health support in certain instances, including large-scale disasters, help lines, and at specialized locations or situations. Although these positions are usually voluntary services and may not require professional certification or advanced degrees, many crisis counseling opportunities do require volunteers to submit references, complete an application and interview process, and complete a training regimen.

Experiential therapy. In experiential therapy, many different types of therapy and therapeutic interventions beyond traditional talking therapy are used to help a person become more aware of their internal perceptions surrounding events in life. Role-play, guided imagery or other therapeutic activities may help a person gain awareness and understanding of their emotions and thoughts related to life events.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a mental health condition in which a person may experience lasting feelings of worry, fear or dread, often with anxiety-related physical symptoms, including irritability, difficulty concentrating, feeling overly tired or restless, and muscle tension. 

Group therapy. Group therapy allows individuals to work through problems by sharing with others who have similar experiences, challenges or goals. Types of groups include general, specialized and support groups. Group members usually receive less individualized attention than those going through individual therapy.

Interpersonal therapy. During interpersonal therapy, the therapist reviews the person's relationship and emotional reaction patterns. The focus for treatment emerges from current relationship issues, such as a loved one's death, a struggle with a significant other or some other important life event.

Licensed clinical social worker. These specialized social workers can diagnose mental illness and typically handle more sensitive cases with varying levels of support, medical assistance and long-term treatment plans. A licensed clinical social worker cannot prescribe medications and must have a master's degree in social work and maintain proper clinical licenses.

Licensed social workers. Licensed social workers can provide or facilitate therapy but cannot prescribe medication. They typically have fewer education requirements, such as a bachelor's or a master's degree in social work, when compared to licensed clinical social workers.

Marital and family therapist. Marital and family therapists have a master's degree and specialized training with couples and families in individual and group settings. Marriage and family therapists treat many different serious clinical problems, including marital problems, anxiety, depression, individual psychological problems and child-parent problems.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). MAOIs are a class of antidepressants that are generally not a first-choice treatment due to a higher chance of serious side effects and strict safety guidelines. Special care must be taken when prescribed this type of antidepressant because certain foods, drinks and medications could be very dangerous or fatal while taking an MAOI.

Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). This is a class of antidepressant medication that increases the amount of active norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters in the brain. These medications may be used to treat major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, nicotine addiction/smoking cessation, SSRI-associated sexual dysfunction, bipolar depression or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Online therapy or virtual/telephonic therapy. Online therapy, also known as “telehealth,” uses technology to allow a provider to offer services to a patient virtually, including via telephone, live video and online chat. This setting has recently been more commonly used, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers who deliver care online are held to the same standards of care, licensure and privacy expectations as those providing care in-person.

Panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by sudden, unexpected bouts of panic, usually referred to as “panic attacks,” which are often paired with symptoms of a racing heart, shortness of breath, debilitating worry and intense fear.

Pastoral counselor. Many people choose to seek mental health therapy from clergy who are trained to provide clinical pastoral therapy. These professionals can diagnose mental health issues without prescribing medication and incorporate spiritual guidance into therapy.

Psychiatric mental health nurse. Psychiatric mental health nurses are specially trained nurses who can only administer therapy under the direction of a physician or nurse practitioner. They can administer medications but cannot prescribe them.

Psychiatric nurse practitioner. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who may diagnose, treat and prevent mental health disorders. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe medication and administer psychological therapy.

Psychiatric physician assistant. Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine with physician supervision, similar to nurse practitioners. PAs can perform psychiatric evaluations and assessments, order and interpret diagnostic studies, establish and manage treatment plans, and refer as needed.

Psychiatric social workers. Psychiatric social workers have a master's degree or a PhD and can diagnose mental illness and perform psychological therapy. They can provide or facilitate therapy but cannot prescribe medication. Some social workers pursue additional voluntary certification, such as a qualified clinical social worker, to demonstrate their mental health expertise.

Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a physician (MD or DO) who has completed medical school and residency and focuses specifically on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists can assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems, conduct psychological therapy, prescribe medications, and order medical tests and treatments.

Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a specialty in psychology that aims to change or modify an individual's personality by addressing a variety of relational and emotional issues. Psychoanalysis promotes healthy functioning, healing and creative expression through awareness of unconscious habitual patterns of emotion and behavior.

Psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic therapy is used to help a person identify and sort through current thoughts and feelings connected to past experiences. This therapy focuses on self-reflection, self-examination and the use of the relationship between therapist and patient to evaluate problematic relationship patterns in the patient's life.

Psychologist. A psychologist has an advanced degree, usually a PhD or PsyD in clinical psychology, and has completed an internship with exposure to methods of treatment, analytical testing, problem-solving techniques and behavioral therapy. Psychologists treat mental health problems with psychological therapy and other behavioral interventions; however, they generally cannot prescribe medications.

School psychologist. School psychologists are certified psychologists who practice in a school setting and are often involved with assessment and diagnosis, intervention, prevention, health promotion and program development for students.  

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are a common starting point for people starting an antidepressant for the first time. This class of antidepressant medication increases the amount of active serotonin neurotransmitter in the brain. This type of antidepressant typically has fewer side effects and is generally considered a safer option than others.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SNRIs are commonly prescribed antidepressants because interactions with other medications occur less frequently while taking them. This class of antidepressant medication increases the amount of active serotonin and norepinephrine neurotransmitters in the brain. People who take them may experience some side effects, such as nausea, dizziness and sweating.

Social anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder may be triggered by situations in which other people are present. This type of anxiety is based upon the fear of being rejected, embarrassed or judged. People with social anxiety disorder may have a difficult time making or keeping friends and feel nervous or ill around other people.

Tranquilizers. This type of medication is also known as anti-anxiety drugs or antipsychotics, depending on if it’s a minor or major tranquilizer. These medications relieve anxiety symptoms by slowing down the central nervous system and producing a calming or sedating effect. Some tranquilizers are commonly prescribed as sleeping pills and muscle relaxants.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). TCAs require more time to take effect compared to SSRIs and SNRIs. Because they are generally accompanied by more side effects, they are usually only prescribed when an SSRI is not successful.

Published July 2022.



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