Supporting Access to Mental Health Services for Patients Who Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication: A Proposed Framework and Suggestions for Future Directions

Am J Speech Lang Pathol. 2022 Sep 7;31(5):2268-2282. doi: 10.1044/2022_AJSLP-22-00089. Epub 2022 Aug 16.


Purpose: The purpose of this review article is to examine interacting factors that affect the psychotherapeutic process for patients who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). This is examined from two perspectives: (a) how the skills and needs brought by the individual with communication disabilities influence the process of therapy and (b) how the individual's ecological systems may affect an individual's mental health and their access to mental health supports. Understanding these factors will guide future efforts aimed at ensuring that individuals with communication disorders have adequate access to services and supports for mental health.

Method: A narrative synthesis approach was used to explore the interaction of psychotherapy and the use of AAC. Existing research in the fields of psychotherapy and speech-language pathology was examined for its relevance to issues of communication using AAC. Specifically, information was synthesized concerning mental health, prevalence rates of mental health diagnoses, the provision of traditional psychotherapy, and communicating via AAC in order to describe the intersection of psychotherapy and AAC. This narrative synthesis approach sought to initiate discussion of relevant factors that may affect the psychotherapeutic process for patients who use AAC.

Results: A variety of factors may affect the psychotherapeutic process for patients who use AAC. Bronfenbrenner's (1977) Ecological Systems Theory was used to explore access to mental health services for individuals who use AAC at the levels of microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. Such factors include alterations to communication between patient and psychotherapist, skills brought by the patient, involvement of a communication assistant and/or speech-language pathologist, education and skill level of the psychotherapist, appropriateness of billing codes, and system and policy factors that may affect the provision of mental health services to patients who use AAC.

Conclusion: It is necessary to explore the factors that affect the provision of psychotherapy for patients who use AAC in order to more fully address the mental health needs of individuals with communication disorders. Further research is needed to determine the impacts of these factors and ways to address those impacts.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Communication Aids for Disabled*
  • Communication Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Communication Disorders* / psychology
  • Communication Disorders* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Speech-Language Pathology* / education