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Thought Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Thought disorders greatly reduce quality of life but they are treatable. This article will discuss thought disorder, its diagnosis, and treatment.

What is a Thought Disorder?

A thought disorder is a symptom of mental illness. It is often associated with schizophrenia, but it can also occur in people with mania and depression. It is characterized by an abnormal way of speaking, writing, and expressing thoughts.1 

This article will go into depth about what a thought disorder is, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. 

Thought Disorder

Shot of a young woman looking pensively out a window at home

What is a Formal Thought Disorder?

A formal disorder is another term for a thought disorder. The word formal sets it apart from a lapse in thinking that can be the temporary result of a condition of general confusion. 

Symptoms of a Thought Disorder

The signs of a thought disorder are as follows:

  • An Inability to Stay on Topic: Thought disorder symptoms include a person losing their train of thought and veering from topic to topic.
  • Lack of Speech: A formal thought disorder may cause a person not to speak because they don’t know how to express themselves.
  • Rapid, Pressured Speech: The combination of anxiety and thought disorder may cause a person stress when speaking so they speak rapidly and nervously.
  • Incoherence: When a person with a thought disorder speaks, their words may not make sense. 

  • Illogical Speech: Illogical speech is among the many thought disorder symptoms. The things a person with a thought disorder says may not be logical

  • Wandering Train of Thought: A thought disorder may make a person unable to stay on topic, so they wander from thought to thought.

Thought Disorder Diagnosis

There are several techniques that can be used to diagnose a disordered thought process. These include:

  • The Rorschach Inkblot Test: The Rorschach Inkblot Test involves the patient looking at a series of inkblots to give their interpretation of each. The responses will reveal whether the person has a blocking thought process.1
  • The Thought Disorder Index (TDI): The TDI can also reveal thought disorder symptoms. It is a standardized test that measures 23 areas of potential disordered thought process and weighs their severity on a scale from zero to one.2
  • Scale for the Assessment of Thought, Language and Communication: This is a scale that assesses a person’s thought, language, and communication to improve the reliability of a formal thought disorder diagnosis.3

Common Types of Thought Disorder

There are different types of thought disorders that may occur. These include the following:


Also known as poverty of speech, alogia is a disordered thought process characterized by simple, brief responses. People with the condition will rarely speak unless spoken too. It is a common symptom of dementia and schizophrenia. 


Blocking thought process is a formal thought disorder that involves people abruptly interrupting themselves mid-sentence. They may pause for a second or two and when they start talking again, they are likely to have changed the topic of conversation. The condition is often associated with schizophrenia.

Circumstantial Thinking

Circumstantial thinking is characterized by using excessive, irrelevant details when speaking or writing. 

Clanging: Often associated with mania, clanging is a bipolar thought disorder that involves making word choices based on the sound of the word rather than it’s true meaning. The person may rely on rhymes, puns, and alliterations to make sentences that don’t make sense.


Echolalia is a type of thought disorder that is characterized by the person struggling to communicate. They may repeat noises and words they hear instead of expressing their thoughts. 


A person with a neologism formal thought disorder will create new words and expressions when they talk. They may also go on tangents before getting back to their main point. 


Tangentiality is a disturbance in thought processes that causes a person to include irrelevant details in their conversation and fail to make any sort of substantial point. 

Word Salad

Word salad is a cognitive thought disorder that is linked to advanced schizophrenia. It involves using random words and phrases unintelligibly. 

Risk Factors of Thought Disorder

Thought disorders are more likely to occur in people with mental disorders and cognitive issues. These cognitive issues can range in severity and effects, and it is important to distinguish between them for appropriate treatment

Examples of Mental Disorders that Can Influence Thought Disorder

Thought disorders include the following: 

  • Anxiety: The stress associated with anxiety may make it difficult for people to think clearly.
  • Mood Disorders: Mood disorders like major depression, dysthymia and bipolar disorders are often associated with thought disorder symptoms. 
  • Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is characterized by soaring emotional highs and plundering lows that can affect thought processes.
  • Depression: Thought disorders are often linked to severe forms of depression. When signs of thought disorder are present, the patient will be more likely to relapse.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury: A traumatic brain injury may produce changes in the brain’s functions and sensory system that causes thought disorders, hallucinations and delusions.
Thought Disorder

Treatment of Thought Disorder at Anew Treatment Center

Thought disorders are not easy to deal with, but fortunately, treatments for thought disorders are available. Here are some that are offered at Anew Treatment Center.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT aims to change unrealistic negative thought processes and replace them with healthy behaviors. It has shown to enhance function and improve symptoms of hallucinations, delusions and thought disturbances.

Family Therapy

Often the therapist will bring the family into therapy sessions. This helps the relatives develop techniques that help their loved ones cope with their condition. 

Group Therapy: Group therapy is a therapy conducted in a group setting. It helps the person feel like they are not alone. It boosts communication skills and provides support.


Antipsychotic medications may be prescribed to treat a formal thought disorder. They can be effective in balancing chemicals in the brain to reduce thought disorder symptoms. 

Anew Treatment Center: An Opportunity for Wellness and Growth

In addition to offering top notch therapies, Anew offers a comforting atmosphere and a top notch staff. We work with each of our patients to customize a treatment that is best suited to their needs. We integrate scientific and alternative approaches to address the mind, body, and soul. 

A thought disorder can greatly reduce quality of life. Don’t let it hold you or a loved one back any longer. Contact Anew for the treatment you require and look forward to happier, healthier living.

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