Therapy Terms to Know

Medically reviewed by: Rachel Hughitt, MS
Thursday, August 10 2023

Therapy can be helpful for anyone who is dealing with mental health issues. But it can be overwhelming to navigate the world of therapy, especially if you are unfamiliar with some of the terms used in therapy sessions. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common therapy terms to know. This can help you learn more about therapy, and feel more comfortable and confident in your therapy sessions.

If you’re looking to try out therapy, SonderMind can connect you to a licensed mental health professional in your state. Your SonderMind therapist can also help explain to you therapy terms and answer any questions you may have. 

Common therapy terms to know

Here are some commonly used therapy terms you might hear or read about. 


You may have heard of “psychotherapy” and  “talk therapy” and wondered if they’re the same thing. You’re right — they are. Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) is treatment that helps you identify and change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that are interfering with their quality of life. Psychotherapy can help people manage mental health concerns, such as coping with stressful life events, trauma, medical illness, or death of a loved one; and specific mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Psychotherapy is usually done with a licensed, trained mental health professional in a one-on-one setting. It can also be done in a group setting (group therapy), with couples (couples therapy), or with families (family therapy).

People will respond differently to different types of psychotherapy. As a therapist explores your goals and concerns, they will work with you to create a treatment plan tailored to your needs. In certain situations, psychotherapy is combined with medications as part of a person’s treatment plan. Learn more about the differences between psychiatry and psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy

You may have heard the therapy term “CBT”. CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy and is a type of psychotherapy. The main goal of this talk therapy is to help you identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. Your therapist will then work with you to shift those thoughts and behaviors so they align with your goals and overall well-being.

For example, a therapist might help you replace a negative thought like “I can’t do anything right in my life” to a positive thought like “I can do this with the experience that I have.”

Many different people can benefit from CBT, including those living with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.
Exposure therapy Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s most often used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorderpost-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias. When people are afraid of something, they tend to avoid the object, activity, or situation that they’re afraid of. Exposure therapy helps people confront their fears. The therapist creates a safe and controlled environment so you can safely be exposed to the things you fear and avoid. Repeated exposure helps reduce fear and decrease avoidance.

Dialectical behavior therapy

You might hear of dialectical behavior therapy, also known as DBT. This kind of talk therapy is heavily based on cognitive behavioral therapy with one difference. In DBT, a therapist helps you validate or accept uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Your therapist will help you find balance between acceptance and change and help you learn new coping skills and mindfulness techniques. This type of therapy combines behavior therapy, CBT, and mindfulness. DBT is usually designed to treat mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, is a form of therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices and cognitive behavioral therapy. Rather than typical talk therapy where you discuss issues with your therapist the whole session, MBCT dedicates part of the session to techniques that can help you focus and calm your mind and body, including:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Stretching
  • Meditation
  • Being present in the moment

During a session, you work to become more aware of your feelings and thoughts as just passing events rather than representations of yourself. This type of therapy can help a person fight off a difficult frame of mind before it takes hold. Because of this, it's often used to treat people living with addiction or depression, especially those who are having recurring episodes. 

Evidence-based therapy

You might have heard of the phrase “evidence-based” when it comes to therapy terms and thought that it sounds so scientific. Simply put, evidence-based care is when health care professionals use the best available research and their clinical expertise to treat a person based on their unique needs and preferences. You can think of evidence-based care this way: 

Let’s say you go to the doctor to get treated for a sore throat. Based on your symptoms and throat culture results, your doctor diagnoses you with strep throat. 

Research and the best available data have shown that a certain medication has treated infections like strep throat successfully, but your doctor knows that you’ve taken this medication in the past and it hasn’t worked great. So instead, they prescribe a different medication — also shown to be effective through evidence — that may work better for you specifically. 

Your doctor will see how you do on this medication, and make note of how well it works for you for future reference. This is a form of evidence-based care because both research data and your unique circumstances were taken into account to determine the right treatment for you. 

Evidence-based care isn’t just used in a medical setting. It’s been proven to be effective in therapy, which is why SonderMind therapists use evidence-based practices to help people reach their therapy goals. Find out here how it’s used at SonderMind.

Feedback-informed care or measurement-based care

Feedback-informed care is an evidence-based approach to mental health care that uses your feedback to help guide treatment throughout a therapy journey. This means the therapist will regularly ask for your feedback about how they’re doing. At SonderMind, this is done through clinical questionnaires (CQs). CQs have you answer questions about your mental well-being before and after sessions. You can fill CQs out right within your SonderMind portal, so it’s easy to share your feedback with your therapist.

There are several types of CQs, such as the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire (GAD-7), a common anxiety screening tool, and the Therapeutic Alliance Questionnaire to assess the overall therapeutic alliance — the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist. The types of CQs you’ll use will depend on what your therapist thinks are most appropriate for you based on your concerns, symptoms, and behaviors. 

Through CQs, you and your therapist are able to see how your treatment plan is working over time. If progress slows and you both feel that changes need to be made, you can work together to make adjustments to your care plan.

Client-centered therapy

You might also hear of this term referred to as “person-centered therapy.” And it’s exactly what you think it might be. This type of therapy allows you (the client) to take an active lead and guide sessions. As part of that process, the therapist helps you come to their own solutions by helping you reflect on and clarify your thoughts and ideas so you can come closer to realizing your true self. As therapy progresses, you can resolve conflict, prioritize your values, and learn to interpret your thoughts and feelings — which can help you change problematic behaviors. 

Grief therapy

People can have many different reactions to loss, such as the death of a loved one. These reactions can include behavioral and physical problems, extreme mourning, and an inability to emotionally detach from the person who died. Grief therapy is treatment that helps you work through these reactions. In grief therapy, a therapist will help you address issues of separation, grieving, and carrying on with life. You might also hear this called “bereavement therapy” or “grief counseling.”

Therapeutic alliance 

The therapeutic alliance refers to the relationship between you and your therapist. A strong therapeutic alliance is key to successful therapy. There are obvious and not-so-obvious factors that make up the therapeutic alliance. There is purposeful collaboration between you and your therapist, where you both work together on shared tasks and goals. Less-obvious factors include the bond or relationship between you and your therapist, including mutual respect, trust, and understanding of each other.

The therapeutic alliance is dynamic; it can change from session to session or even over the course of a single session. It is a relationship that can be constantly evolving between you and your therapist. It’s also one of the most robust predictors of treatment success in all forms of psychotherapy.

Here are some do’s (and don’ts) to build a solid therapeutic alliance with your therapist.

Your treatment will be individual to your situation

There are many different approaches to therapy. The approach your therapist uses will depend on your situation, concerns, and goals. The ones above are some of the most common terms that you might hear. 

If you are new to therapy, having a basic understanding of these therapy terms can help you feel more comfortable and confident in your therapy sessions. You can always ask your therapist for more clarification, too, if there’s something you don’t understand. By having a better understanding of these terms, you can make more informed decisions about your mental health.

SonderMind can connect you to a mental health professional who will assess your situation, understand your concerns and goals, and work with you on a treatment plan that’s tailored to your needs. Start your journey to mental wellbeing by telling us about yourself and we’ll match you to a therapist who fits what you’re looking for. 

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