The complexity of internal experience cannot be adequately captured with a diagnostic label, nor can the identity of a person be described by a description of a disorder. Some of the more commonly referenced psychiatric and personality disorders are briefly defined below. These descriptions can at least be an entry point in beginning to understand the experience that one can bring to psychotherapy .
An Anxiety Disorder is experienced as excessive worries about finances, death, illness, or being apart from a loved one among other concerns. Physical symptoms can accompany an anxiety disorder, such as stomach and digestive problems, headaches and general bodily tension. Anxiety can lead to difficulties paying attention, confusion and inflexible thinking.
In Panic Disorder, anxiety symptoms become acute and lead to moments of intense fear that something catastrophic will happen. Panic attacks are followed by worry about future panic reoccurrences.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is marked by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety and/or by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety, such as hand washing or excessive cleaning.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has become a widely used label for the aftereffects of having endured a traumatic event. Feeling overwhelmed, loss of a sense of security, fears of injury or death, and intense shame and guilt are typically experienced. Emotional numbing and avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event are present to varying degrees.
Depression, contrasted with transitory sadness, is a period lasting at least two weeks when one is unable to feel any pleasure along with changes in sleep pattern, appetite, sexual desire and/ or other psychomotor symptoms. Dysthymia is a more long-term chronic, but milder form of depression where more prominent episodes of depression can be experienced.
In Bipolar I Disorder, depressive symptoms are present along with manic symptoms. In mania, an individual experiences distinct periods of inflated self-esteem, pressured speech, flight of ideas, difficulty concentrating, and psychomotor agitation in addition to engaging in pleasurable but dangerous activities such as promiscuous, unprotected sex. Bipolar II Disorder is milder depression or a depressive episode along with hypomanic, or less severe manic episodes.
At the root of many Substance Abuse Disorders is acute and chronic emotional turmoil which is managed by alcohol or other illicit drug use. Feelings of boredom, depression, and unworthiness alternating with excessive neediness are frequently experienced. Intense feelings of rage and anger may be felt along with a sense of coming unraveled emotionally.
An Adjustment Disorder is a short-term problematic response to a specific stressor. Emotionally, one feels a sense of worry and discomfort resulting from a sense of change. Typically, an individual avoids thinking about a recent change in their life or becomes too preoccupied with thoughts about a stressful event.
Personality Disorders are more chronic, stable and frequently rigid patterns of functioning that cause distress to oneself and to those with whom one lives and works. Psychotherapy can help an individual suffering from a personality disorder become more aware of his or her problematic, but often accepted, behaviors and begin work to change them. There are several types and subtypes of personality disorders. Below are some of the more common examples.
A person with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder copes with long-standing feelings of inner emptiness with a continued demand of admiration and appreciation from others.
A Schizoid Personality Disorder is marked by characteristic detachment from social relationships. A person with this disorder attends to his or her inner world to a much larger degree than to relations with others. One may have deep longings for intimate relationships that are in conflict with intense fears of closeness or abandonment.
Masochistic Personality Disorder is characterized by chronic self-defeating behavior. One’s suffering may express a sense of unconscious guilt or moral superiority and is typically related to some valued relationship or experience.
In Hysterical or Histrionic Personality Disorder, one displays chronically excessive emotionality and attention seeking behavior, frequently of a seductive nature. One with this disorder is preoccupied with concerns related to their gender, sexuality and power, often unconsciously feeling devalued due to their gender.
Borderline Personality Disorder is known for chronic mood instability, splitting (all or none, black and white thinking), unstable and chaotic interpersonal relationships, and confusion about one’s sense of self. One with this personality disorder has tremendous difficulty managing negative emotions, particularly of an aggressive nature, which leads to self-destructive behavior, such as self-cutting or suicidal gestures.