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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Paradox intention: in Logotherapy, this is a strategy based on a stimulation to ‘desire the opposite’: a person is helped to desire precisely that which he/she fears, making use of his/her capacity of self-distancing.

Paraphilia: sexual arousal stimulated by atypical situations or objects that may interfere negatively with the capacity to have sexual relations based on affection. See Sexual Disorders.

Paranoia: in psychiatry, a mental disturbance in which a person presents hallucinations characterised by a high degree of self-reference delusions, i.e., the conviction that one is being threatened or persecuted by persons, animals or things.

Paresthesia: an abnormal tactile sensation characterised by a tingling sensation and numbness. Produced by a pathological condition of structures of the central or peripheral nervous system relating to tactile sensibility.

Parietal lobe: the intermediate part of each cerebral lobe. Active in the sensory reception of the skin and body positioning.

Parkinson’s Disease: a pathological condition caused by the chronic and progressive degeneration in particular of certain extrapyramidal structures (i.e., an area of the central nervous system involved in the control of physical movements). The average life expectancy for patients with PD is generally lower than for people who do not have the disease.

Performance anxiety: a kind of anxiety which stems from the fear of being incapable of fulfilling a task or attaining some goal and being judged negatively by others. The phenomenon might occur for example before taking an examination or before sexual intercourse.

Personalization (cognitive theories): a cognitive distortion consisting in an attribution of the occurrence of external events to oneself without there being any proof in support of a causal link.

Phallic phase: the third stage of psycho-sexual development in infants according to the Freudian model. In this stage, the shifting of libido energy from the anal region to the genitals ushers in the appearance of the Oedipus complex in males and the Electra complex in females.

Phenomenological (method): a method adopted in Gestalt psychology and in studies of human perception and intelligence, based on careful and systematic observation of the characteristics of experience produced by coming into contact with the external world and by the self-observation of internal mental processes.

Phobia: a very strong and irrational fear of a certain object or situation, capable of limiting the normal activities of an individual.

Placebo (effect): any non-active chemical substance used in treatment and clinical experimentation, which may influence the behaviour of a person for reasons connected with subjective beliefs concerning the placebo itself and an expectation of positive change.

Pleasure principle: in psychoanalysis, the term refers to the modalities of functioning of the Id, seeking immediate gratification for its needs.

Preconscious: a region of the mind ‘situated’ halfway between the Unconscious and Conscious. Thoughts and information contained in the preconscious mind are not immediately available but may become so following effort.

Prejudice: stereotypical concepts and ideas generally not based on verifiable data. Prejudices often occur to the detriment of certain social groups.

Preoperational stage (Piaget): the second stage (of a total of 4) of mental development as formulated by jean Piaget. In this stage the child learns to use symbols, images, words and actions This stage lasts from age 2 to age 6 approximately.

Presbyophrenia: a disorder of old age characterised by a chronic memory deficit, but with a relatively normal level of consciousness and mental vigilance.

Primary Autism: a state of indifferentiation, typical of the first month of life, in which a newborn child does not distinguish between what is inside and what is outside its body, between what belongs to him/her and what belongs to the mother.

Primary desire: in emoto-cognitive psychology, a desire is ‘primary’ when its realization allows for direct satisfaction of the basic need (or needs) it is linked to (in a functional sense, there is a release of tension; however, in a dysfunctional sense, the release of tension will not occur in an adequate manner). On account of primary desires being directly connected to needs, we often confuse ‘needs’ with desires (technically speaking, the need for food is in fact a ‘desire’ as it is linked to a representational object).

Primary processes: the modality of functioning of the Id, whereby tension is reduced through the imagination of what is desired.

Primary trauma (emotocognitive psychology): a ‘primary trauma’ is the traumatic consequence of trauma-engendering events and situations or traumatic maps directly connected with a need or a primary desire, capable of disturbing its regulation and thus stopping the need from being adequately satisfied. A primary trauma is the consequence of the impossibility or incapacity of a system of reference to directly satisfy fundamental needs or realize primary desires.

Projective identification: a defence mechanism whereby a subject fails to recognise the true self or mindset of another individual and attributes to the other person aspects of his/her own inner world which are considered as bad and unacceptable. The ‘aim’ of the mechanism is to provide a form of control over these aspects ‘from the outside’.

Projective test (personality test): an instrument used to analyze the personality, based on the presentation of ambiguous stimuli aimed at triggering a response in the person to whom the test is administered.

Prosocial: a term relating to behaviour of a cooperative nature. Such behaviour normally includes friendship, empathy, altruism etc.

Prosopagnosia: the incapacity to recognise the faces of known persons. In more severe cases, the disturbance may include the incapacity to recognise one’s own face. However, the capacity to identify familiar persons by means of other elements (e.g., the voice) remains intact.

Psychasthenia: the name of this disorder, which falls within the sphere of the neuroses, literally means a ‘lack of psychic energy’. It is characterised by an overall lowering of the mental functions of a non-organic origin. A symptom linked to problems of a psycho-affective nature and accompanied by an attitude of excessive doubt and indecision.

Psychometrics: a sector of psychology that deals with the mathematical and statistical measurement of psychological data derived from clinical and experimental work.

Psychopathology: a disturbance of the psyche.

Psychophysiology: a discipline which deals with the study of physiological processes and their relationship with psychic functions / dysfunctions.

Psychosis: the psychoses are serious emotional disorders which involve a loss of contact with reality and fragmentation of the personality. See also ‘Neurosis’.

Psychosexual development: in psychoanalysis, the series of stages that determine the psychic and sexual development of an individual, from infancy to adulthood. The five phases are: 1) the oral phase; 2) the anal phase; 3) phallic phase; 4) latency phase; 5) genital phase.

Psychosomatic (medicine): a branch of medicine that studies the relationship between the mind and the body, or, in other words, the way in which affects and emotions produce dysfunctions and disorders on the physical plane. See Somatization.

Pyromania: the basic element of this mental disorder is the presence of multiple episodes during which an individual deliberately and intentionally lights fires. Persons affected by this disorder experience a sense of tension or emotional arousal before starting a fire.

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