about Adult Selective Mutism by Jonathan Berent
Charles (not real name)
age 42; father of two, software programmer, was in the basement of his home working
when his wife came downstairs to engage him in a conversation regarding her anger
toward his mother for not sending their children birthday cards.
Charles did not respond. His wife stormed upstairs furious again that her husband
In his therapy session
Charles described to me his internal dynamics regarding that scenario. “He
was trying to talk but his thoughts were swirling around in his head and he could
not get any out by the time his wife stormed upstairs.
”During his fourth
session of treatment, via telephone, he asked a great question; “why did
I wait so long to get help?” The answer, which I facilitated his answering
was, “his marriage crisis caused him to seek help”. In other words,
he never would have looked for help without the external environmental influence.
Such is the nature of the Selective
Mutism. Charles would have continued to struggle with substantial unhealthy
emotionality and dysfunctional behavior if not coerced into treatment via the
overt and sustained distress in his marriage, which was worsening over time!
It should also be mentioned
that Charles was on medicine before starting treatment with me. It was the right “family” of
pharmaceuticals; however not the most productive specific medicine or dosage.
This is a common scenario.
Connie (not real name)
age 45, human resources consultant, never said a word for one and a half years
at her weekly staff meeting consisting of about a dozen individuals.
What may be seen as public-group
speaking anxiety (which is present) is more specifically characterized by the
persons’ thinking that “they have nothing to say” or have difficulty “formulating
thoughts”. This dynamic is the essence of selective mutism. It is very
common. Listen to Mike,
a selectively mute adult who resolved the problem. There are numerous interviews
with real people and families who have resolved social anxiety at our
I offer you the following
thoughts to consider; the result of my clinical work since 1978:
- While many SM individuals
are intellectually intelligent, their social and emotional
intelligence is inhibited. This “inhibition” occurs
in many different degrees. Please be very clear: there is a huge difference
between intellectual and social-emotional intelligence. SM also has
a tremendously negative effect on self-esteem.
- Most SM individuals never
receive treatment due to their challenge with “initiative”; therefore,
the earlier that caregivers can facilitate healing, the more of an opportunity
there is to prevent the anxiety from becoming more integrated into the personality.
Please see avoidance-dependence
syndrome. SM positions an individual for defensive and passive behaviors
rather than a proactive approach toward life.
- Parents of SM children
should understand that they have a lot of power to facilitate resolution of the
problem when they learn the parenting
methodology for anxiety management as early as is possible. Furthermore,
it is imperative that parents do not interpret this statement as meaning you
are not good parents.
- The longer that “enabling”,
or “accommodating” the mutism is present without a “corrective
parenting” methodology,the more potential there is for the SM
individual to become narcissistic (negatively self-absorbed) and possibly delusional
in the form of learning that the world will adapt to him/her versus the other
- Most SM adults, with whom
I have worked, have an underlying dysthymia, which is an ongoing state of not
being happy enough. Think of it, “How can a person be really happy when
there is a consistent, ingrained worry regarding fear of talking?
You may want to
consider the following options:
CD: Hear interviews with 5 patients who have resolved selective mutism.
The Selectively Mute Child”: A self-therapy audio CD program.
Mutism Seminar on audio CD.
book “Beyond Shyness: How to Conquer Social Anxieties” (Simon & Schuster).
therapy via telephone.
in Great Neck, New York.
Therapy audio CD for Public Speaking Anxiety.
self -therapy audio CD program for social and performance anxiety.
Therapy and the Learning Disabled: A seminar for parents on audio cassette.
There are numerous free
diagnostic tools at www.socialanxiety.com.
Wishing you good health,
Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W.