How to Get the Most Out of Therapy When You Struggle With Verbal Communication

Therapy is a cornerstone of the recovery process. You can gain confidence, support, motivation, and valuable life skills from individual and group therapy sessions. However, you may have found yourself struggling due to issues related to expressing yourself to a support group or therapist. Sometimes obstacles exist that stop you from communicating in a traditional office setting using standard methods. You could have a physical, cognitive, or emotional issue that influences your ability to speak, or you may have difficulty connecting in social settings. The disconnect might make you feel like you are missing out on the wisdom and encouragement that others gain from attending therapy, but you can still enjoy the same benefits.

Many forms of communication exist, and you just need to find the one that works best for you and your situation. Accessibility tools have never been more prevalent, thanks to things like online apps and special devices. The prevalence of innovative technology makes it easier to work around physical disabilities. Alternative therapies that do not rely on verbal communication are also becoming standard in treatment centers around the country. 

Physical and Cognitive Disabilities Caused by SUD 

Speaking, swallowing, and finding the right words can be challenging for some people due to physical or cognitive impairments caused by an accident, injury, or illness. Substance use disorder (SUD) itself increases the risk of developing conditions that affect speech. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the effects of SUD on the brain can "cause damage due to seizures, stroke, and direct toxic effects on brain cells." The impact of SUD can lead to language barriers like aphasia and motor speech disorders. Cognitive communication disorders resulting from brain damage cause difficulties in the following areas:

  • Social interaction
  • Memory
  • Ability to read, write, speak, or listen
  • Thought organization

For physical and cognitive conditions, you can work with your therapist to get assistive devices or use an alternative method of communication. Technology has made it easier to communicate using a wide range of digital tools. For example, deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals can use text-to-speech or real-time American Sign Language translation apps in therapy sessions. Standard assistive devices for therapy include: 

  • Text-to-speech apps
  • Communication boards
  • Translation apps or services
  • Speech generating devices (SGD)
  • Sign language
  • Body language

Difficulty Speaking About Emotional Topics 

Physical and cognitive disabilities are not the only significant barriers when having specific discussions with your therapist. You might feel physically unable to speak about emotionally charged topics due to severe trauma responses. A few ways to get around this verbal blockage includes doing the following:

  • Write down the thoughts and feelings you want to express
  • Draw how you feel or use pictographs
  • Find a piece of writing, artwork, or music that best describes what you want to say

Traumatic events can be especially hard to speak about because they might cause flashbacks, sense memories, or dissociative events when you try to talk about topics related to the trauma. In those instances, it can be helpful to try processing your emotional response to the discussion and identify triggers. Sometimes the hardest things to talk about are the ones that feel most liberating when you are finally able to verbalize them with someone you trust. 

The Emphasis of Verbal Communication in Therapy

A peer-reviewed paper published by Psychiatry (Edgemont) reported that "an estimated 60 to 65 percent of interpersonal communication is conveyed via nonverbal behaviors," however, "unfortunately, the emphasis in the clinical setting is disproportionately placed on verbal interactions." Psychotherapy is often referred to as "talk therapy" for a reason. You spend a large portion of the session having a conversation, processing your emotions, and learning new skills. When talking is hard or not an option, you might need to use an alternative form of therapy or treatment. 

Alternative Therapy and Treatment Options 

Alternative treatments can improve your mood, decrease the risk of relapse, and lower stress without requiring you to speak or otherwise communicate with your therapist through the majority of the treatment session. Instead, you listen as the therapist does the bulk of the talking, and then you get to express yourself in another format. A few examples include:

  • Equine-assisted therapy and animal-assisted therapy
  • Art and music therapy
  • Outdoor and exercise therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Guided meditation

You can find therapists who have experience providing care to people who are non-verbal or have communication disorders by reaching out to your case manager. Solutions exist to ensure you get the most out of your treatment. Your recovery depends on how well you utilize the resources available to you. Facilities like White House Recovery and Detox can help you connect with therapeutic and medical professionals with relevant skillsets. 

You may feel uncertain or uncomfortable about the idea of therapy if you have difficulty communicating or a disability that interferes with your ability to talk with your therapist. Hearing impairments, cognitive disorders, and physical disabilities might make it feel impossible to benefit from standard psychotherapy or rehabilitation treatments. At White House Recovery and Detox, we believe that communication barriers should not stop you from getting the help you deserve. You are not alone, and there are plenty of resources available to ensure you get the assistance you need to feel supported and safe during treatment and continuing care. Community, federal, and private support services provide a wealth of resources for anyone with a disability who struggles with substance use disorder. You control your own recovery, and we want to make the process as straightforward as possible. Learn more by reaching out to White House Recovery and Detox today by calling us at (800) 510-5393.