The demand for mental health services, across the country and across the Commonwealth, is at an all-time high. We are experiencing unprecedented call volume and seeing increased wait times for referrals. We are working as fast as we can to provide care to our callers, while also maintaining a high level of service. We appreciate your patience during this time.

Learn more about When and Where to Seek Help. We are not an emergency service. If you or the person you’re seeking to assist requires a crisis response to meet immediate safety needs, please call 911, go to your local emergency room, or find your local Emergency Service Program by calling 877-382-1609.

Glossary of Mental Health Services and Approaches to Treatment

Seeking help from a mental health professional can be an overwhelming process. Often times, it can be difficult to determine what mental health services are appropriate, or which treatment approach would be most effective for the needs of yourself or a family member. Understanding what services are available and learning about about the various treatment modalities and approaches can make this process more manageable.  This glossary contains definitions of frequently used mental health terms pertaining to the needs of children, adolescents, and adults.  

Types of Mental Health Settings

Emergency and Crisis Services- A group of services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to help during a mental health emergency. Examples include telephone crisis hotlines, mobile crisis teams, suicide hotlines, crisis counseling, crisis residential treatment services, crisis outreach teams, and crisis respite care. For more information, see Accessing Psychiatric Emergency Services Programs (ESP)

Home-Based services- Typically available for children and adolescents (see CBHI resources), and sometimes available for the elderly population, are mental health services provided in the individual or family's home, either for a defined period of time, or for as long as it takes to stabilize with a mental health problem. Examples include parent training, counseling, and working with family members to identify, find, or provide other necessary help. The goal is to prevent the individual from being placed outside of the home, or to access services that they are unable to access due to disabling factors that do not permit them to leave their homes.

Inpatient Hospitalization- Mental health treatment provided in a hospital setting 24 hours a day. Inpatient hospitalization provides: (1) short-term treatment in cases where an individual is in crisis and possibly a danger to his/herself or others, and (2) diagnosis and treatment when the patient cannot be evaluated or treated appropriately in an outpatient setting.

Outpatient Therapy-  Sessions that take place in a mental health professional’s office, whether it is a clinic or private practice setting. Outpatient therapy sessions are available to individuals, couples, and families across the lifespan and typically occur for 45-50 minutes, usually once a week. Outpatient therapy is often referred to as “talk therapy.”

Partial Hospitalization Program/ Day Treatment- Partial Hospitalization is often considered a step-down service following an inpatient hospitalization. However, an inpatient hospitalization is not the only way to participate in a PHP. If an individual feels they would benefit extra mental health support, often in order to prevent an inpatient hospitalization, they can often get a referral from a mental health professional, like their outpatient therapist, to participate in a PHP or a day program. PHPs usually last at least 4 hours a day and provide a structured environment where participants receive group counseling, vocational training, skill building, crisis intervention, and recreational therapy.

Residential Treatment Centers- Facilities that provide treatment 24 hours a day and can usually serve more than 12 people at a time. Adults and children with serious emotional disturbances receive constant supervision and care. Treatment may include individual, group, and family therapy; behavior therapy; special education; recreation therapy; and medical services. Residential treatment is usually more long-term than inpatient hospitalization. Centers are also known as therapeutic group homes.

Types of Therapy and Theoretical Approaches

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)- An empirically based psychological intervention derived from the cognitive behavioral model of psychotherapy. ACT combines mindfulness strategies together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.

Addiction and Recovery Therapy- Therapy focused on addressing and reducing symptoms related to addictions, while addressing the root causes of addiction, and replacing it with healthy habits. This type of therapy focuses on interrupting the destructive cycle of seeking using, recovering, and seeking again. 

Animal Assisted Therapy- Therapy that involves animals, typically pets, as part of the therapy session, with the goal of improving an individual’s social and emotional functioning. Equine (horse) assisted therapy is a growing field that has been proven to be effective in building confidence, improving communication, and giving personal insights to participants.

Bilingual Therapy- Therapy provided by a provider fluent in two or more languages. If a bilingual therapist is not available interpreters or interpretive computer software may also be used to facilitate therapy between two people who do not speak the same language.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)- A therapy approach that aims to teach individual new skills on how to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and cognitions through a goal-oriented systematic approach. CBT aims to help individuals recognize negative, or dysfunctional, thoughts and to discuss how these thoughts are linked to behaviors. The goal of CBT is to change an individual’s thoughts in order to create more positive behavioral changes.

Couple Therapy-  A type of therapy that assists in resolving problems within a relationship. Couple therapy can occur at any stage of the relationship, such as while dating, during marriage, or in the process of a divorce. Typically, two people attend therapy sessions together to discuss specific issues. Couple therapy aims to help couples deal more effectively with problems by increasing communication, which may help prevent problems from becoming more serious.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)- DBT is a cognitive-behavioral approach that emphasizes the interrelation of social factors and individuals thought and behavior. The theory behind this approach is that some people are prone to react in a more intense and out-of-the-ordinary manner toward certain emotional situations, primarily those found in romantic, family, and friend relationships.

Divorce Mediation- Divorce mediation occurs when an individual and their spouse meet with a neutral third party, the mediator, and issues are worked through so the couple can end their marriage as amicably and cost effectively as possible. Divorce medication can be especially useful when a couple has children.

Evidence-Based Practices- Evidence-based practices are approaches to prevention or treatment that are based in theory and have undergone scientific evaluation. According to the American Psychological Association, it is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture and preferences. Many of the treatment approaches have been within this glossary have been empirically studied. For more information or to find an evidence-based treatment, visit: A Guide to Evidence Based Practices (EBP).

Expressive Arts Therapy- Encourages people to express and understand emotions through artistic expression and through the creative process. Expresss Art therapy provides the client-artist with critical insight into emotions, thoughts, and feelings via the use of visual arts, dance/movement, music, psychodrama, and writing. 

Family Therapy-  A type of psychotherapy that works with couples and families to nurture change and development. Families are viewed as a system in which each member influences the others. There are several types of family therapy, but many of them share the goal of identifying patterns of interaction, improving communication, and reducing conflict.

Existential Therapy- Existential psychotherapy is a philosophical method of therapy that operates on the belief that emotional and intellectual conflict is due to that individual's confrontation with the 'givens' of existence. Existential psychotherapy is an optimistic approach in that it embraces human potential, while remaining realistic by emphasizing a recognition of the intrinsic limitations of being human. Following in the tradition of the in-depth psychotherapies, existential therapy has much in common with psychodynamic, humanistic, experiential, and relational approaches to psychotherapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)- EMDR is a therapy in which a patient recalls a traumatic event while simultaneously undergoing bilateral stimulation that can consist of moving the eyes from side to side, vibrations or tapping movements on different sides of the body, or tones delivered through one ear, then the other, via headphones. The goal of EMDR therapy is to process these distressing memories, reducing their lingering influence and allowing clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms.

Group Therapy- A type of therapy that involves one or more therapists working with 6-10 people at the same time. Group therapy is sometimes used alone, but it is also commonly integrated into as comprehensive treatment plan that also includes individual therapy.

Guardian Ad Litem Services (GAL)- Guardians are adults who are legally responsible for protecting the well-being and interests of their ward, who is usually a minor. A GAL is a unique type of guardian relationship that has been created by a court order only for the duration of a legal action. Courts appoint GAL’s for infants, minors, and mentally incompetent persons, all of whom generally need help protecting their rights in court. GAL’s figure in divorces, child neglect and abuse cases, paternity suits, contested inheritances, and are usually attorneys.

Life Coaching- A service that is profoundly different from therapy, or counseling. The coaching process is a present and future focused process. It addresses specific personal projects, business successes, general conditions and transitions in the client’s personal life, relationships, or profession by examining what is going on right now, discovering what the obstacles or challenges might be, and choosing a course of action to make and individuals life the way they want it to be. Life coaching is not covered by insurance.

Mindfulness- A common translation of a term from Buddhist psychology that means “awareness” or “bare attention.” It is frequently used to refer to a way of paying attention that is sensitive, accepting, and independent of any thoughts that may be present. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mental habits in which the mind is on “automatic pilot,” where most experiences pass by completely unrecognized. Mindfulness therapy encourages clients to focus on their breathing and their body in order to notice, but not judge, their thoughts so they can practice living in the moment.

Narrative Therapy- A collaborative approach to counseling. It focuses on the stories of the client’s life and is based on the idea that problems are manufactured in social, cultural, and political contexts. Each person produces the meaning of their life from stories, or narratives that are available in these contexts.

Neuropsychological Assessment- A comprehensive assessment of cognitive processes where neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders are evaluated with the goal of understanding the etiology and evolution of a disorder. Neuropsychology is the unique integration of genetic, developmental, and environmental history with testing data to better understand brain functioning. With a comprehensive assessment of a person’s cognitive and personality functioning, it is possible to specify the origin and development of a disorder with the end goal of implementing customized recommendations.

Psychological Assessment- A psychological assessment can include numerous components such as norm-referenced psychological tests, informal tests and surveys, interview information, school or medical records, medical evaluation and observational data. A psychologist determines what information to use based on the specific questions being asked. For example, assessments can be used to determine if a person has a learning disorder, is competent to stand trial or has a traumatic brain injury. They can also be used to determine if a person would be a good manager or how well they may work with a team.

Play Therapy- A form of therapy that uses play-based models and techniques to better communicate with and help clients achieve optimal mental health. Play therapy is often used with children and may involve the use of dolls/dollhouses, puppets, and other toys. Play is used to help individuals address unresolved psychological issues by working out their concerns through play.

Psychodynamic Therapy- Psychodynamic therapy, also known as insight-oriented therapy, focuses on unconscious processes as they are manifested in a person's present behavior. The goals of psychodynamic therapy are to increase a client's self-awareness and to understand the influence of the past on their present behavior.

Sex Therapy- A form of psychotherapy that addresses sexual dysfunctions that are interefering with the ability to have a healthy, fulfulling sex life. Individuals may attend sessions alone, or couples may go to sessions together. Sex therapists are trained to understand the etiology of the sexual concerns and offers strategies to improve sexual functioning.

Spiritual and Faith Counseling- Incorporates pastoral counseling elements and techniques and combines them with life experiences to create a focused spiritual perspective in order to assist the client on their spiritual path.

TraumaFocused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT)-  An evidence-based treatment approach shown to help children, adolescents, and their caregivers overcome trauma-related difficulties. It is designed to reduce negative emotional and behavioral responses following child sexual abuse, domestic violence, traumatic loss, and other traumatic events.


The information in this guide was drawn from the following sources:

American Neuropsychiatric Association. (2015). What is neuropsychology? Retrieved on July 20, 2016 from 

American Psychological Association. (2016). Understanding Psychological Testing and Assessment. Retrieved on August 21, 2016 from 

Marriage Counseling and Therapy Network. (2016). Counseling Approaches-Term Definitions. Retrieved on July 29, 2016 from