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PSYCHOLOGY AND PSYCHOTHERAPY GLOSSARY

The glossary/dictionary that you can find in this section of our site gathers all the technical terms that are currently used in psychology and psychotherapy. Each term presents a brief and clear description.


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Castration anxiety: an anxiety typical of the Oedipal phase, in which children fear that their father may punish them by means of castration on account of their desires involving their mother.

Catalepsy: in hypnotherapy, the term refers to a technique used to engender a form of total rigidity in a subject.

Cataplexia: a disorder that causes a loss of muscular tone usually caused by strong emotions such as joy, sadness etc. The phenomenon may occur in certain sleep disorders.

Catharsis: a term used for the first time by Sigmund Freud and Joseph Breuer in their studies of hysteria to indicate the liberation of negative emotions underlying psychic tensions and anxiety, thanks to the recovery of thoughts and memories. Also used to refer to ‘abreaction’.

Cognitive dissonance: according to Festinger, who formulated this theory, people that have dissonant, discordant beliefs concerning a particular subject of interest tend to modify them in order to reduce dissonance.

Cognitive distortion (cfr. cognitive theories): systematic errors of reasoning which become evident in psychological distress or malaise. Errors may include: arbitrary inference, selective abstraction, excessive generalization, exaggeration and minimizing, personalization and dichotomic thought.

Collective Unconscious: a term introduced by C. G Jung. A region of the mind containing subconscious psychic content common to the whole of mankind. The collective unconscious is formed by the ‘archetypes’.

Comorbidity: simultaneous (concomitant) presence in a single patient of distinct disorders or conditions.

Compulsion: a repetitive behaviour or action which a person feels obliged to perform in order to reduce the distress caused by obsessive thoughts or to avoid the occurrence of a calamity. See Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Concrete operational stage (Piaget): the fourth stage (of a total of 4) of mental development as formulated by jean Piaget. In this stage, a child acquires intellectual capacities related to hypothetical-deductive thought, which allow him/her to carry out logical operations on the basis of purely hypothetical premises and arrive at the appropriate consequences. This stage starts at around age 12.

Conditioning: a process by which a neutral (unconditioned) stimulus is associated with an artificial (conditioned) stimulus. For example, the sound of a bell (neutral stimulus), which causes an increase in salivation in a dog as the sound is associated with the presence of food (the conditioned stimulus). At this point, the sound of the bell is no longer a neutral stimulus but in turn becomes a conditioned stimulus (cfr. the experiments of the Ivan Pavlov).

Conscious: refers to everything a person is aware of: i.e., memories, desires, sentiments etc.

Conscious repression: a defence mechanism that derives from the awareness with which one tries to intentionally exclude from the region of consciousness, an idea, a fact or a person, to which or to whom in any case an unpleasant sentiment or conflict have been linked. Distinguished from repression in the classical sense on account of the fact it occurs consciously.

Conversion: a defence mechanism through which an internal conflict deemed as unacceptable is expressed symbolically by means of physical symptoms involving body organs or sensory or motor functions. The disorder may present in the form of paralysis, tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination etc. See also ‘Hysteria’.

Counter-transference: this term is used in the psychoanalytical method to indicate specific reactions of the analyst with respect to the patient and the patient’s own transference, such reactions being intended as conscious or subconscious emotional responses to expressions of the patient in analysis.

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