What Is Thought Blocking?
By: Mason Komay
Updated September 01, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Ema Jones, LCSW
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article mentions the topic of prescription medication used for thought blocking and other conditions. The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.
At one time or another, nearly all of us have experienced a moment in which we forgot what we were going to say. Perhaps it was because we were distracted, sidetracked, or lost our train of thought. In any case, the thought usually returns and the conversation carries on as usual.
However, for some people, this phenomenon can be much more troublesome. Individuals with certain mental health disorders can experience a condition called thought blocking. Unlike with the momentary lapses we all experience, individuals suffering from thought blocking are not able to recall what they were thinking.
This condition is not common, and it can be distressing to those affected by it. If you or a loved one are currently experiencing episodes of thought blocking, read on to learn everything you need to know.
Thought blocking is an abrupt interruption in an otherwise normal stream of thought. It usually only affects individuals with severe mental health disorders. It can occur when someone is recalling a traumatic memory, but it may also happen in a normal conversation.
At some point, seemingly for no reason whatsoever, the individual experiencing thought blocking will stop talking mid-sentence and forget what they were saying. They will not be able to remember what they were talking about no matter how much prompting they receive or how many probing questions are asked.
What Causes Thought Blocking?
Thought blocking is seen most often in schizophrenia, which is a psychotic disorder. Thought blocking has also been linked to other psychotic disorders and severe mood and anxiety disorders.
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that can cause hallucinations and delusions. It affects about 1 percent of the population. Symptoms and their effects can vary significantly between individuals, so treatment is specific to each person. Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in early adulthood and is identified through symptoms such as:
- Delusions. Delusions are beliefs that are persistently held despite evidence to the contrary.
- Hallucinations. Hallucinating means sensing things that don’t exist. Auditory hallucinations are the most common type of hallucination.
- Disorganized thinking. Disorganized thinking is reflected in disorganized speech. Communication may be difficult or impossible to understand.
- Disorganized motor behavior. This may range from agitation to strange postures and movements.
- Negative symptoms. This refers to aspects of normal functioning that are lacking. Negative symptoms may include lack of emotion, lack of interest in socializing, or the inability to feel pleasure.
Bipolar disorder is a complex mood disorder characterized by intense alternating periods of high energy and depressive symptoms. Many factors contribute to bipolar disorder, such as genetic influences and differences in brain structure. Medical professionals can usually identify bipolar disorder through dynamic symptoms of “highs” and “lows,” including:
- Periods of increased energy and activity
- Rapid thinking
- Participation in risky behaviors (such as extreme spending or potentially harmful sexual activity)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anger and irritability
- Sleeping too much
- Excessive worry
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in eating habits
- Depressed mood
- Suicidal thoughts
Psychosis is not a medical diagnosis, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. Psychosis may be caused by issues including changes in sleep patterns, injury to the brain, mental illness, use of street drugs, or use of and withdrawal from certain prescription medications.Psychosis is characterized by symptoms that may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depressed mood
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Disorganized speech
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Some forms of anxiety, particularly social anxiety, may be so severe that they impact an individual’s ability to communicate effectively. Those who suffer from severe social anxiety may experience extreme discomfort at the thought of talking to or interacting with others. They may also choose to avoid social situations whenever possible. While avoidance of social situations or difficulty communicating because of anxiety is not thought blocking, thought blocking can occur in some forms of extreme anxiety.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Thought blocking is different from other short-term lapses in thinking. When diagnosing episodes of thought blocking, mental health professionals must be certain they are eliminating other possible causes of thought interruption. Let’s take a look at some other conditions with symptoms that mimic thought blocking.
Petit mal seizures or “absence seizures” occur in individuals with conditions, like epilepsy, that affect the nervous system. Seizures, which typically last less than 15 seconds, are the result of interrupted electrical activity in the brain. A petit mal seizure can appear very similar to an episode of thought blocking. The person having the seizure may stare off into the distance, stop talking mid-sentence, or stop moving altogether. After the seizure, it is not uncommon for the individual to have trouble remembering what happened. However, petit mal seizures cause a person to stop all voluntary behavior, whereas thought blocking only impacts a person’s ability to recall information.
Some conditions, such as strokes, brain tumors, dementia, and physical trauma, can damage the brain. If the brain has sustained major damage to areas responsible for speech and communication, it is not uncommon for an individual to struggle with talking, recalling words, or verbally communicating thoughts. However, these conditions are caused by harm to the brain, while thought blocking does not appear to be caused by this kind of damage.
Identifying conditions in which thought blocking is present and eliminating other sources of thought interruption can be a complex process. However, once thought blocking is diagnosed, it is possible to limit its effects.
How Is Thought Blocking Treated?
Because thought blocking is a symptom of an underlying issue, that issue must be treated for improvements to occur. Common components of treatment include:
Studies suggest that individuals with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia benefit from a treatment combination of therapy and medication. A trained therapist can help a client with schizophrenia manage their symptoms, limiting the impact those symptoms have on their day-to-day life.
One method of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, is recognized as an effective treatment for individuals with a range of psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia. Cognitive behavioral therapy works by helping patients recognize and challenge their negative thought patterns and faulty beliefs. This in turn leads to more positive emotions, healthier behaviors, and reduction of symptoms.
Medication will vary depending on the disorder causing the thought blocking. Medications will be closely monitored by a medical professional, and dosages and prescriptions may change over time. If you are on medication for a psychiatric disorder like schizophrenia, it’s important to take the medication exactly as prescribed. Following your doctor’s instructions and communicating any changes in your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors will be key to treatment success.
One of the most important things for anyone experiencing any symptoms of mental illness is support. Support can come from a variety of sources, including:
- Family & Friends
Having a close and dependable network of people whom you love and trust is key when experiencing a mental illness. If you are caring for someone with distressing symptoms like thought blocking, it’s okay not to have answers for them.Simply show your support by being there for your loved one, encouraging them to follow through with their treatment plan, and being kind and understanding when periods of thought blocking interrupt your time together.
Managing symptoms like thought blocking can be easier with the help of others who understand the condition. Finding a support group of individuals who have the same diagnosis or symptoms can help someone experiencing thought blocking develop much-needed emotional support. These groups offer friendship, hope, and access to coping skills that can help manage the symptoms of mental illness.
Learning more about thought blocking or the psychiatric condition causing it can provide reassurance to someone suffering from its effects. Knowledge is power, and understanding what you are experiencing can help you better manage its effects.By staying well informed about your symptoms and diagnosis, you can ask meaningful questions and offer valuable insight to your healthcare team. This will ensure that your treatment plan stays on track.
How BetterHelp Can Support You
If you need a therapist to help you manage your symptoms or disorder, reach out to BetterHelp. BetterHelp provides discreet counseling with licensed, experienced therapists. No matter how overwhelming your thought blocking is, help is always available with BetterHelp.
You deserve to be happy —let BetterHelp help.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Schizophrenia
One treatment option for individuals with schizophrenia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT teaches clients to challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs, resulting in more positive emotions, healthier behaviors, and a reduction of psychological symptoms. When it comes to schizophrenia, CBT is generally used one hour a week for 12 to 16 weeks. During this time, the therapist will teach the client to test the reality of their thoughts and perceptions. Research has found that CBT can help those with schizophrenia learn better social and problem-solving skills, reduce symptom severity, and lower their risk of relapse.
The Benefits of Online Therapy
As discussed above, cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective way to reduce symptoms of mental disorders like schizophrenia, including thought blocking. But when you’re struggling with symptoms like hallucinations or delusions, it can be difficult to leave home. This is where online therapy comes in. You can access BetterHelp’s platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home. There’s no need to sit in traffic or take time out of your busy workday to drive to your appointment; you can speak with your licensed therapist from wherever you have an internet connection.BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped people with thought blocking and other symptoms of schizophrenia. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.
“Shana has helped me tremendously over the past few months. She has assisted me in changing my thought patterns and bad habits. She is very caring, a great listener and is not judgmental. It is clear how much she cares about her patients. I appreciate her and would recommend her to anyone searching for a counselor.”
“Brentom is an excellent counselor, very easy to talk to, good at aiding me with focusing and reversing negative thought patterns, and being willing to try new techniques.”
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