Lost Voices and Unlived Lives: Exploring Adults’ Experiences of Selective Mutism using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Aaron S. Walker, Jane Tobbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


Selective mutism (SM) is a rare condition whereby individuals remain silent in situations where speech is expected while they speak comfortably in others. Few studies thus far have attempted to understand this phenomenon from a qualitative perspective and have primarily focused on child sufferers of SM. The present study aims to address these gaps within the literature by presenting the subjective experiences of adult sufferers and to enable these excluded voices to broaden our understandings of this difficulty. Four adults with SM were interviewed using synchronous online techniques, data were analysed using an interpretative phenomenological methodology to gain an in-depth understanding which allowed participants’ voices to emerge. A detailed analysis is presented of four themes connecting the narratives of participant experiences. Excerpts from the diary of one of the authors who had previously suffered from SM are also included to facilitate authenticity and transparency within this research. The results capture how selective mutism was experienced for these participants as the imprisonment of a true identity behind silence and how they have attempted to negotiate their unwanted identities of being selectively mute. These findings are considered in the context of previous literature and their implications and possible avenues for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-471
Number of pages19
JournalQualitative Research in Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date22 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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