Cutting-Edge Therapies for Selective Mutism

Cutting-Edge Therapies for Selective Mutism

In the tenth episode of the sixth season of critically acclaimed legal-drama TV show called ‘Drop Dead Diva’, Kim Kaswell, one of the head lawyers, takes up a case regarding a ventriloquist who is accused of wrongly utilizing the Americans with Disability Act to gain a seat for his puppet in an airplane. When Kaswell goes to prison to bail him out, she finds him without his puppet. The ventriloquist is unable to speak properly, he stammers and struggles to communicate effectively. Without his constant companion, his puppet, he struggles to perform an activity he does for a living.

Ventriloquism is defined as the “production of the voice in such a way that the sound seems to come from a source other than the vocal organs of the speaker”; in this manner, an individual may express their ideas or feelings through a fictional character, commonly puppets.

The ventriloquist suffers from selective mutism, an anxiety disorder defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “consistent failure to speak in certain social situations where there is a natural expectation of speaking” due to anxious thoughts. With the help of his puppet, the character is able to overcome his anxiety of speaking and effectively connects with his audience. Today, many such projective techniques are employed to treat selective mutism. Masks may also have a similar remedy for those seeking treatment for selective mutism.

In addition, drama therapy defined as “the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals,” utilizes a unique form of therapy for selective mutism.  A case study done involving Gladys, a 5-year-old girl diagnosed with selective mutism, found that drama therapy, when offered “ in the context of play, with play as the primary reinforcer” brought out speech within a tense period of time (Oon, 2010). This improvement allowed her to join dramatic play and speak spontaneously. This case study observed the effects of the main elements of drama therapy: the playspace, role-playing, and dramatic projection. Gladys’s self-esteem and sense of spontaneity increased. Subsequently, these two qualities helped her generalize her speech to new settings on her own. Gladys’s newly harnessed spontaneity further helped her become more sociable and comfortable. This study advances the possibility of integrating a behavioral skill with drama therapy for therapeutic benefits of a child with an anxiety-related condition like selective mutism.

Such novel approaches to selective mutism have been successful in remodeling the social worlds of individuals without the sober tone that therapy can sometimes entail. Unaccompanied by an emphasis on their anxiety disorder, children and adolescents may benefit from unconventional therapies that focus on developing the individual rather than the illness.


Drop Dead Diva RECAP 6/1/14: Season 6 Episode 10 “No Return”. (n.d.). Celebrity Dirty Laundry. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from

What is Drama Therapy? (n.d.). North American Drama Therapy Association. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from

Sound Advice – Selective Mutism Foundation. (n.d.). Selective Mutism Foundation. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from

Playing with Gladys: A case study integrating drama therapy with behavioural interventions for the treatment of selective mutism. (n.d.). Sage Journals. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from

Nikita Kohli

I come from a family of doctors. Growing up surrounded by doctors, of all the things I heard at the dinner table the one thing that repeatedly peaked my interest was mental health. This encouraged me to shadow a psychiatrist and observe patients with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. As a health science major, I want to work towards removing the stigma and misconceptions associated with mental illnesses, thus preventing people with mental illnesses to feel alienated from society. I still remember when the psychiatrist taught me to say “people with schizophrenia” rather than “schizophrenic people”.

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