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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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Sadism: a marked tendency to obtain or increase sexual gratification by inflicting pain on or humiliating another person. See also ‘Masochism’.

Scission: a defence mechanism that separates contradictory feelings (bad sentiments from good sentiments), reducing the vision of reality to a set of good and bad objects and sentiments. During the first few months of infancy the mechanism ensures a child’s emotional survival. Later on, some non-pathological aspects of scission may remain present as long as reality testing is not compromised.

Secondary advantage: the benefit a person derived more or less consciously from the presence of a disorder or invalidity.

Secondary desire: in emoto-cognitive psychology, a desire is categorized as ‘secondary’ when its realization in turn allows for the fulfilment of another desire (whether primary or secondary), and thus the indirect satisfaction of the need or needs from which it developed (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). Secondary desires are not directly connected to needs and are more easily subject to psycho-social modification.

Secondary processes: the activities of the ego, which imply realism, and the capacity to make decisions and solve problems.

Secondary trauma (emotocognitive psychology): ‘secondary trauma’ is the consequence of events or traumatogenic situations or traumatic maps connected with a secondary desire capable of disturbing its realization and indirectly impede adequate satisfaction of a need. Briefly, it is possible to define a secondary trauma as the consequence of the impossibility/incapacity of a reference system (e.g., a person) to fulfil desires of the secondary type.

Selective abstraction (cfr. cognitive theories): a cognitive distortion which consists in conceptualizing a situation on the basis of a detail extrapolated from a context, ignoring other contrasting information.

Self-awareness: an understanding of and reflection on one’s cognitive, emotional and relational characteristics and one’s resources (See article on ‘Self-awareness’).

Self-efficacy (sense of self-effectiveness): a conviction concerning one’s capacity to achieve or do something, or to attain a certain level of performance. Convictions of efficacy influence the way a person thinks or locates sources of personal motivation and takes action. A person with a firm sense of self-efficacy presents positive thoughts, is motivated, sets rewarding and exceptional goals and obtains results more satisfactory than those of a person with a poor sense of self-efficacy, who would tend to perceive his/her potential in a negative way.

Self-esteem: the evaluation made by a person with respect to himself/herself. Such evaluation depends on how the individual perceives himself/herself in relation to others. People with a low level of self-esteem, for example, will tend to hold themselves and their capacities in low regard.

Self-realization: a term used by Abraham Maslow to indicate the need for the realization of one’s potential, capacities, talents, knowledge, acceptance and unity of his/her human nature.

Sensory-Motor stage (Piaget): the first stage (of a total of 4) of mental development as formulated by jean Piaget. In this stage, intelligence consists of the mental schemes derived and generated by practical action. This stage lasts from the age of 18 months to 24 months approximately.

Separation anxiety: the main characteristic of this disorder is excessive anxiety presented by a child when it has to be separated from someone in the family to whom it is deeply attached. This state of anxiety presents every time the child is left alone, causing unrealistic and persistent fears concerning the occurrence of catastrophic events which might separate the child forever from its parents.

Serotonin: a neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, alterations of which seem to be involved in the development of depression.

Shadow (cfr. Jung, Analytical Psychology): subconscious parts of the personality that are not accepted or not recognised, and which are very often negative (though not always). The Shadow is the region of the psyche we are insufficiently connected with.

Shaping: in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, a technique which allows a therapist to teach to patients complex behaviour through the acquisition of ‘intermediate stages’, which, by successive approximation, gets closer and closer to the behaviour that has to be acquired.

Short-term memory (STM): the memory-store which contains the most recent memories and has a limited duration. The STM acts as a temporary storage space of memories which are subsequently elaborated and transferred to the long-term memory or forgotten.

Social trauma (emotocognitive psychology): a ‘social trauma’ is the traumatic consequence of events or situations that are potentially traumatogenic (natural calamities, wars, accidents, kidnapping, mourning, exposure to risks and danger, etc), which involve a community or one’s own definable social group (family, peer groups etc) or which can be shared. A shared trauma or a trauma with a high chance of becoming a shared trauma as it is potentially sharable. In brief, we would define a social trauma as the consequence of traumatogenic events or situations which have developed within the context of one’s own group or definable community (i.e., a broader, more extensive system, of which that which has been taken as a point of reference is a constituent part).

Somatization: a defence mechanism which results in a subject reacting to anxiety-generating or threatening stimuli with physical rather than psychological responses. The tendency implies the transfer of painful feelings to parts of the body. See ‘Somatoform Disorders’.

State (e.g., of anxiety): a temporary mental condition, not due to personality tendencies or traits of the personality.

Stressor: an element that causes stress; the stressful stimulus can be located in the environment, in a situation or it may be caused by a person. See ‘Stress’.

Sublimation: a defence mechanism by means of which the libido and aggressive energy are neutralized and satisfied through deviation towards aims and objects that are culturally and socially acceptable, e.g., artistic pursuits and intellectual creativity.

Subliminal: a message is said to be subliminal or ‘below the threshold of consciousness’ when it is assimilated at a subconscious level. Subliminal messages are sometimes used in common advertising to entice people into purchasing a specific product.

Super-ego: a subconscious component which judges, forbids, reprimands and censors a subject’s behaviour or the set of assimilated moral, familial, social and cultural restrictions. One of the main structural components of Freud’s tripartite theory of mental life (see also ‘Id’ and ‘Ego’).

Synaesthesia: a term that refers to those situations in which an auditory, olfactory, tactile or visual stimulus is perceived as two distinct but simultaneously-occurring sensory events. In its milder form, the phenomenon may occur in a large number of people. An example would be those situations in which the presence of a particular smell or flavour evokes a sensory reaction, as might occur following the sight of fruit, which is perceived as a particular taste). Synaesthesia may also occur following the use of drugs such as LSD or other hallucinogenic substances.

Synapsis: a highly specialised structure within the nervous system, which allows for communication between nerve cells. By means of synaptic transmission, nervous impulses can travel from one neuron to another.

Symbiotic phase: in Margaret Mahler’s theoretical views, a very early phase of infancy in which a child lives in complete symbiosis with the mother, believing that the mother is a part of itself.

Syndrome: a set of symptoms that tend to present at the same time or in a connected manner and which are considered as typical effects of specific causes (ascertained or presumed).

Systematic desensitization (behaviour therapy): this is a gradual procedure having the purpose of replacing anxiety with relaxation through the practice of relaxation techniques during gradual exposure to anxiety-generating stimuli.

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