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Client Spotlight: An Effective Selective Mutism Treatment Experience

This is a real interview with a parent whose child engaged with evidence-based outpatient services for selective mutism at the Center for Effective Therapy. They graduated from treatment a year ago and are now reflecting on the impact that the Baker Center had on their lives.  

Can you briefly describe what life was like for your family before receiving outpatient treatment?
Prior to treatment at the Baker Center with Courtney Muller, LICSW, my daughter didn’t talk at preschool. Attending school was stressful for her, for me, and for the teachers and directors at school who didn’t know how to support her. It was overwhelming to know that she was going somewhere for 16 hours a week, and she wasn’t talking the whole time she was there.

It was her first experience with school, her first time being separated from me for long periods of time, and it was post-pandemic when it all started. While she had always been on the quiet side, her behaviors at home weren’t concerning or really any different from how they are now. It was the concerns about her mutism at school that prompted us to seek support since she wasn’t able to engage with school staff or peers.

What made you want to contact The Baker Center?
I am a social worker, and so is my dad. We were pretty certain that we knew what was going on diagnostically, since we have a background in mental health, but we knew that finding the right services would be key for helping my daughter. We heard about the Baker Center because of connections in the field, and it happened to be located near where we lived. After calling in for a phone screen, it seemed really clear that we were a good fit for the services the Center provides.

How was your experience with The Baker Center different than with other clinics?
We had an evaluation done through her preschool, which had a social worker to provide mental health support. While the evaluation was helpful, the providers in the schools did not have a thorough understanding of selective mutism and how to address it. We happened to be going through the assessment and intake process with the Center for Effective Therapy around the same time, and through the Center we were able to access appropriate treatment.

How was your therapist different than others and what did your family gain from outpatient treatment for selective mutism?

Before seeing Courtney Muller, LICSW, in person at the Waltham office, our daughter had been seeing a different therapist over Zoom. Therapy didn’t really seem to have a big impact for her until we started going to in person sessions. The sessions in person were pivotal in the progress that she made.

Through the treatment course, we as parents learned a lot about how to manage her selective mutism and anxiety. We learned about skills that we can use to encourage her to be brave and face her fears. We have taken those skills and applied them in real life so that we are no longer accommodating her anxiety.

Courtney also went above and beyond as a therapist and an advocate for our daughter. She took the time to contact our daughter’s schoolteachers and counselors to educate them on selective mutism and how to best support her in a school environment. With Courtney’s help, her teachers were able to use skills proven to help kids with selective mutism in the environment that was challenging for her.

How is life different now vs. before treatment?
Our daughter talks in school now and did so on the first day of the new school year! She has also been successful in making her own friends without support from caregivers.  Recently, the school hosted a holiday party, and she raised her hand to answer a question in front of the whole class. This is something that she never would have done prior to treatment.  

As parents, we now have the skills to fall back on and apply in daily life when her anxiety peaks. Knowing how to support her has helped us understand her, her anxiety, and her selective mutism better.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share with other parents who have kids struggling with symptoms of selective mutism?

Something that was helpful for me was talking to parents of other kids who have selective mutism. Parenting a child with selective mutism can be a hard thing for other people to understand because it feels like a challenge that is really difficult to overcome. Sharing experiences with other parents helped because it supported my understanding of what my child needs and what realistic expectations for my child should be.

After over a year of being through this process and supporting my child with selective mutism, I have learned that this diagnosis is mystifying or uncomfortable for people who aren’t familiar with it. If you don’t know what selective mutism is, or how it works, it’s easy to think that it will resolve on its own in time. It’s also easy to accommodate the anxiety of kids with selective mutism and think you’re being helpful, but it has the opposite impact. Education for caregivers and school personnel can be helpful in learning skills to best support kids with selective mutism.

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