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Music Therapy and Selective Mutism: #WorldMusicTherapyweek,

Published by the Brittish Association of Music Therapists

Written By Joanna Turner - Lead therapist : SoundEmotive Music Therapy

Joanna Turner is a music therapist in Wiltshire and Somerset who leads a team working across Wiltshire supplying bespoke therapy packages for under 25s. Joanna has worked with many children with selective mutism but since her own child was diagnosed in 2020 she has concentrated on exploring and researching this rare condition and campaigning for therapeutic pathways to be put in place across the UK. She has presented work in Vienna at the Music Therapy and Families Conference and also in Florida at the International Selective Mutism Foundation Conference. Joanna has appeared on several BBC radio programmes throughout the country and on BBC Breakfast TV discussing Selective Mutism and the current treatment pathways in the UK. She runs parent support forums and peer supervision groups for music therapists in the field of Selective Mutism.

Selective Mutism - what is it?

• Selective Mutism (SM) also referred to as Situational Mutism is a high anxiety disorder resulting in a phobia of speaking in certain situations. SM affects 1:140 children in the UK and is categorised as being high or low profile depending on the Individual’s presentation. If left untreated, SM can persist into adulthood.

• A child or adult with selective mutism does not refuse or choose not to speak at certain times, they’re literally unable to speak. Children’s vagal nervous system enters a ‘Dorsal Vagal state’ or ‘freeze state’ whereby they become frozen, unable to speak and communicate. Many children also experience effects in their digestive system and respiratory systems. Experiences of this state seems to show similar presentations to that of a child having gone through trauma.

• Children talk freely and happily when in a comfortable environment and can often be of above average intelligence.

What are the ways Music Therapy can help?

Music Therapy has a unique and Innate quality that identifies the social, emotional, physical, mental and spiritual aspects of humankind. We use rhythmic intervention to calm the nervous system and access inner parts of the brain and nervous system to reduce anxiety. We can explore melodic spaces to echo emotions as well as human experiences, stories, unconscious communications, self- expression and creativity. We work in a respectful, honest and open environment that allows plenty of space for musical wonderment, choice and exploration.

For many children with Selective Mutism, music therapy offers them a place to create sound, communicate their emotions, and explore their imaginations free of judgement and fear. As therapists, we offer children a beautiful space in which to have conversations without spoken words. Instead, our instruments and sounds help the children to speak all the words they need to say whilst we listen and respond to the world they allow us to join.

Where do referrals take place?

Referrals can be made via school, health visitor, GP and speech and language services. Parents can also refer their children to speech and language services in their county.

Currently speech and language therapists assess for selective mutism but, unfortunately, many discharge on. We hope, through campaigning for a standardised care pathway across the UK, we will start to fill those gaps with educated professionals and a range of treatments for parents to access, including music therapy. We are pleased the NHS have recently updated their website to reflect changes in support and information discussed in our campaign.


Conclusion and Links.

We can see Selective Mutism is a multi-layered condition that requires many different approaches to help treat. We are very much aware of the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to finding and supporting treatment pathways across the UK. Music therapy has a lot to offer children/teens and adults with this condition and their families, and we hope to raise the profile and use of music therapy as care pathways are developed.

All music therapists are welcome at the Selective Mutism Clinical Excellence Meetings, information on upcoming meetings is available at the RCSLT (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.).

Support to professionals and parents is available at SMIRA, Joanna is proud to be a trustee of this international organisation

Music therapy and Selective Mutism peer support group can be found on Facebook

Selective mutism - NHS ( -

National CEN in Selective Mutism | RCSLT -

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