What Is A Thought Disorder?
A thought disorder is not a specific diagnosis per se, rather it is a term that is used to describe a type of cognitive dysfunction that affects a person’s ability to generate logical speech, writing, and behavior. A thought disorder disrupts a person’s thought process. It is a disturbance in the organization and expression of thought, which causes incoherent, illogical or problematic speech and behavior. Thought disorders are often found in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, attention deficit disorder (ADHD), and other serious mental illnesses.1
Symptoms Of A Thought Disorder
A thought disorder is characterized by disorganized thinking, which manifests itself in bizarre speech and writing. The following are other symptoms of a thought disorder:2
- Usual beliefs – Believing that one’s thoughts have been removed.
- Neologism – Creating new words.
- Unconventional speech – Using words in very unusual or peculiar ways.
- Pressured speech – Fast, difficult to decipher speech.
- Incoherent speech – Stringing together unrelated words creating gibberish. This is also called word salad.
- Distractible speech – Difficulty staying on topic due to nearby distractions or frequent interruptions in one’s train of thought.
- Tangential speech – Replying to questions with speech that is way off topic or irrelevant.
- Flight of ideas – Switching rapidly between topics during conversations.
- Derailment – Inability to follow a logical train of thought to tell a story. Getting derailed and halfway through a speech.
- Circumstantial speech – Using excessively indirect speech that never really comes to a point.
- Poverty of speech – Limited, very vague speech.
- Perseveration – Excessive repetition of words or ideas.
Conditions Associated With Thought Disorder Symptoms
Thought disorder symptoms are usually the result of an underlying condition. The illnesses below are often associated with thought disorders.
Schizophrenia refers to a severe mental disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks and behaves. A person with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations which refers to seeing, hearing or feeling something that is not real. Delusions are also common in schizophrenia. Delusions refer to unshakable beliefs that are not based in reality. In spite of the belief not being grounded in reality, the person believes it to be true. Schizophrenia also involves dysfunctional or unusual ways of thinking.3
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes severe shifts in moods, thoughts, and behaviors. While bipolar disorder is generally considered to be a mood disorder, thought disorder symptoms can occur if bipolar is severe. A person with bipolar disorder may experience a flight of ideas, especially during manic episodes.4
ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders that affect children. This neurodevelopmental disorder is rooted in brain development and affects a person’s ability to stay on task, pay attention and control impulsivity. ADHD often persists into adulthood.5 People with ADHD may experience thought disorder symptoms, as well. It can be difficult for kids to ADHD to engage in logical conversations at times. Their speech may be tangential and nonsequential.
Treatment For Thought Disorders
The treatment for thought disorders involves treating the underlying condition. A person with a thought disorder may be treated with medications and/or therapy depending on what is causing the thought disorder. Treatment often involves:
- Medications. Medications are often used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. These drugs can help improve thought disorder symptoms. The type of medication used depends on the disorder. Schizophrenia is usually treated with antipsychotic medications like olanzapine (Zyprexa) and aripiprazole (Abilify). Bipolar disorder is also sometimes treated with antipsychotic medications, such as Zyprexa and Abilify. Doctors also use anti-seizure medications, such as Depakote, to help stabilize mood in bipolar disorder. ADHD medications include Ritalin (methylphenidate) and similar stimulants.
- Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is also very helpful for the treatment of underlying mental illnesses involved in thought disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help a person identify untrue thoughts and learn to replace those with more realistic thoughts. Psychotherapy is most effective for schizophrenia when combined with other treatments.6
Why Get Help?
Thought disorders affect the way a person thinks. A thought disorder can make it difficult to function in everyday life. Thought disorder symptoms make it hard to hold down a job, sustain fulfilling relationships with others, and express one’s needs. If you have a thought disorder, treatment can help you live a healthy, productive life by managing your symptoms. The first step in getting help for a thought disorder is to reach out to a therapist trained in this area.
Are you a family member of a person with a thought disorder? Oftentimes, family members are the first to reach out to a therapist. Thought disorders affect a person’s perception of reality and so people with thought disorders may not realize that they need help. But, family members know otherwise. If you suspect that your loved one has a thought disorder, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trained professional for help. A therapist can help you identify ways to get your loved one in treatment.
What To Look For In A Therapist
While there are a lot of therapists to choose from, finding someone to treat thought disorders takes some effort. Thought disorders are different than other mental illnesses and must be treated differently. It is important to choose a therapist who has experience in these kinds of problems. With TherapyTribe, you can search for therapists by location and disorder treated. Let us help you find a therapist who is qualified to treat thought disorders in your area.
- Morgan, C., Coleman, M., Ulgen, A., Boling, L., O Cole, J., Johnson, F., Lerbinger, J., Bodkin, A., Holzman, P., Levy, D. (2017, May). Thought Disorder in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Probands, Their Relatives, and Nonpsychiatric Controls. Schizophrenia Bulletin, Volume 43, Issue 3, 1 May 2017, Pages 523–535, https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbx016.
- John Hopkins Medicine. (2017, August). Thought Disorder. Retrieved April 10th, 2019 from https://www.hopkinsguides.com/hopkins/view/Johns_Hopkins_Psychiatry_Guide/787025/all/Thought_Disorder
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, Febuary). Schizophrenia. Retrieved April 10th, 2019 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
- Swann AC, Geller B, Post RM, et al. Practical Clues to Early Recognition of Bipolar Disorder: A Primary Care Approach. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2005;7(1):15–21. Retrieved April 10th, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1076446/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, December). What is ADHD? Retrieved April 10th, 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html
- Eells TD. Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia. J Psychother Pract Res. 2000;9(4):250–254. Retrieved April 10th, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330613/.