Psychogenic mutism, which is also referred to as selective mutism, is mutism without any apparent physical cause.
What Is Psychogenic Mutism?
Mutism can be caused by a number of conditions, including deafness, speech delays, and developmental disabilities. But psychogenic mutism occurs when someone—usually a child—who is capable of speaking stops speaking. A child who meets a stranger and does not respond to questions is exhibiting a moment of psychogenic mutism. When mutism lasts longer than brief periods of time, however, it can inhibit communication and may require treatment. In most cases, the mutism occurs only in certain contexts, such as in school or large groups. Rarely does mutism occur in all contexts.
While it might seem like a person with psychogenic mutism is simply refusing to speak, they actually feel physically unable to speak, and forcing the person to speak is unlikely to work. Some of the causes of psychogenic mutism may be general anxiety or past trauma. For example, a child who is learning to speak might stop speaking if he or she is molested or threatened.
Treatment for Psychogenic Mutism
Treatment usually centers around discovering and addressing the underlying cause of the mutism. Treating therapists and physicians should rule out other causes, such as throat pain, injuries, hearing problems, or developmental delays. Psychotherapy to resolve the underlying conditions or stressors is often helpful. In some cases, anti-anxiety medications prescribed by a psychiatrist or doctor are utilized as part of treatment for psychogenic mutism.
Parents of children with psychogenic mutism may need to make lifestyle changes, such as moving the child to a different school or coming up with alternative ways to communicate with the child. Pressuring someone with psychogenic mutism to speak using punishment and other coercive tactics can increase anxiety and cause the mutism to last longer. Family therapy can help parents and children cope and move forward from psychogenic mutism.
- A.D.A.M. Editor Board. (2012, February 11). Selective mutism. Selective Mutism. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002513/
- Selective mutism. (n.d.). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/selectivemutism.htm
Last Updated: 08-18-2015
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Yvette S.March 28th, 2019 at 5:00 PM
Hi I am just wondering if mutism occurs following trauma, would it be the Broca’s area of the brain that would be affected ??? Thank you very much. Yvette
Susan SSeptember 9th, 2019 at 2:31 AM
For how long after the trauma would a child be ready to start speak again
Ruth GOctober 8th, 2019 at 3:42 AM
The child may not start talking for a long time or manifest other symptoms of trauma if the trauma that caused the mutiny isn’t sorted out, giving the child a safe place to talk in their time about what happened will enable them to heal, also ongoing trustworthy environment will ensure full recovery. This is true for anyone who has suffered trauma of course
LeonaNovember 6th, 2019 at 5:37 AM
My daughter has selective mutism and I am trying to get her homeschooled (this is her wish) but she won’t speak about it. How would we get her diagnosed with SM?
ArelyApril 27th, 2020 at 5:02 PM
I wanted to know if it was possible to develop after such a traumatic event, similar to a shooting and PTSD. How long will it last and what will be the process for them to slowly talk again if it can last years.
KashfiaJune 7th, 2020 at 6:05 PM
Do people become mute due to current shock? If the answer is yes, is it temporary or permanent?
NurseAugust 31st, 2020 at 2:38 AM
I had trauma from my mother’s pregnancy, and throughout childhood. My mom feared for her life, as my dad was severely mentally ill. He went to a mental institution when I was 2y2m old, and I started talking well into my 3rd year. It was at that time that I started talking in full sentences, but I had a lisp. I was finally diagnosed at age 55 with Complex PTSD from childhood.
So, it really depends on the sense of safety in the environment, if and when speaking occurs.
It’s not by “choice,” but when the nervous system calms down enough to allow speaking to happen.
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