With Expert Training, More Professionals Can Treat Selective Mutism

By Dr. Aimee Kotrba, Thriving Minds Behavioral Health

I am a psychologist who specializes in Selective Mutism, a form of anxiety that affects children. These children face anxiety that limits them from speaking in public situations and in school settings, and sometimes even to their own families.

However, I didn’t hear about Selective Mutism through all of my graduate school training. During my post-doctoral training, I met a second grade boy who had never talked to any classmate or teacher. He had even stopped talking to his parents. This was a very severe case, but I wanted to understand how to treat him effectively. I searched for answers from literature and found very little literature or training opportunities in the effective treatment of Selective Mutism. Since this time, literature has grown, but there remains to be an intensive training opportunity for mental health professionals.

At this point, approximately 75 percent of the children I treat have Selective Mutism. Many times, parents will see a psychologist who hasn’t been trained in treating Selective Mutism and they are either told the psychologist can’t be of help, or they are treated with substandard and ineffective methods. But research shows Selective Mutism is very treatable. Behavioral therapy with medication as an adjunct maximizes result. More professionals need to know this.

For example, I saw a little girl a few months ago who traveled across the country for an intensive one week of behavioral therapy. We met for a total of 20 hours. At the start of treatment, she had never spoken to anyone outside of the immediate family. At the end of day one, she spoke to me. By day two, she was speaking to peers and other novel adults. By the end of the week, she took part in a scavenger hunt at a mall, where she was able to speak to 10 adult strangers.

The lack of mental health professional training in Selective Mutism is why I’m grateful the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety is funding a national workshop for professionals. Psychologists, therapists, speech pathologists and teachers can take part in the two-day training, March 11th and 12th 2016 at Florida International University in Miami. Without the Foundation, this training would not have been possible. For more information, visit http://www.selectivemutism.org.

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