Thought Blocking: Process, Definition & Techniques

Instructor: Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

In this lesson, learn what thought blocking is and how it occurs through different mental health conditions. Review different techniques that can help individuals move through thought blocking.

What is Thought Blocking?

Imagine being in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and suddenly you stop talking for a moment. Now, imagine a moment of silence passing by, and then you start talking again, albeit about a totally different and unrelated subject. This is what experts call thought blocking. Typically found in severe mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, thought blocking is where individuals lose complete concentration for periods of time that can last up to a minute or longer. To put it simply, this disorder can be described as the emptying of thoughts from the brain.

Thought blocking can occur in people who experience schizophrenia

What Causes Thought Blocking?

Although there are no exact causes of thought blocking, this phenomenon has been known to be exacerbated in individuals that experience psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, acute psychosis, and severe mood disorders such as dysthymia. Many mental health experts agree that their patients describe thought blocking as occurring when they are being questioned or when they talk about a heavily-charged emotional issue. Thought blocking has been linked to individuals that have experienced extreme stress such as trauma, brain injuries, and drug use.

The Process of Thought Blocking

Although thought blocking occurs and is experienced differently by individuals suffering from psychiatric disorders, there are typical signals of how it occurs. When diagnosing thought blocking, doctors agree that a person will suddenly stop speaking in the middle of a sentence without explanation. This is followed by a period of silence that can last anywhere from 2 seconds to over a minute. After this period of time has elapsed, the individual will then start talking again; however, they will focus on a completely different and unrelated matter than what was being previously discussed, while having no knowledge of what they were previously talking about.

It is important to note that thought blocking is different than occasional lapses in memory that most people can experience from time to time. The difference between these two experiences is that an individual that has a lapse in memory can typically refocus by responding to questions or refocusing on the topic; however, this cannot happen after an episode of thought blocking.

Treating Thought Blocking

There are many ways in which we can treat someone who experiences thought blocking; however, it is important to note that different treatments are general and can be modified based upon the severity and the specifics of the episode and the root cause of the disorder or medical issue.

Being supportive. When interacting with a person that experiences thought blocking, it is important to be supportive, as an episode can leave them feeling confused and even afraid. Being supportive and non-judgmental can help them feel safe and open when discussing their experiences. Remember, a typical person who experiences thought blocking won't necessarily remember the episode.

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