What Is a Circumstantial Thought Process?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

A circumstantial thought process is also known as circumstantiality. It's when you include a lot of unnecessary and insignificant details in your conversation or writing. This takes away from the main point of what you're saying. The excessive details and extra information can make it hard for people to follow your conversation.

Symptoms of a Circumstantial Thought Process

When you talk to someone you may:

  • Include a lot of irrelevant details.
  • Talk about things that are related to the subject but not important.
  • Tell stories that are only slightly related to the subject.
  • Answer questions with a lot more detail than is necessary.
  • Return to the main point only after talking about a lot of other things.

Causes of a Circumstantial Thought Process

Doctors don't know exactly what causes circumstantiality. It can happen when you have a mental illness such as a schizoaffective or bipolar disorder.

Normally your brain filters and prioritizes information to help you pay attention to what's important. That filter gets turned off when you have the type of mania that happens with schizoaffective and bipolar disorders. This makes everything seem important.

Mania happens when you have extremely high energy. It's not just being in a good mood. It's very different from the way you normally think or act. Some other symptoms of mania include:

  • Feeling high
  • Feeling unstoppable
  • Not being able to sleep
  • Being impulsive
  • Acting strange
  • Feeling extremely anxious
  • Being easily annoyed
  • Feeling like the people and things around you aren't real

Other conditions can lead to a circumstantial thought process. You may have circumstantiality if you have:

You can have a circumstantial thought process without having a diagnosed illness. A lot of people have unusual language patterns. Circumstantiality alone isn't enough to diagnose any disorder. It could just be the way you talk.

Circumstantial Thought Process Diagnosis

Circumstantiality is one of several types of thought disorders. Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and your medical history to diagnose your condition. You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood work
  • A psychological evaluation.

There are several ways your doctor can diagnose a thought disorder. Two of the most common are: 

Rorschach test. This is also called the inkblot test. You'll look at 10 different inkblots and describe what you see. Your doctor will analyze your answers to help understand your thought processes.

Thought Disorder Index. The person who rates the test will look at a word-for-word transcript of a conversation you've had and rate instances of disordered thinking from 0 to 1. This index can be used with the Rorschach test or another open-ended conversation.

Treatment for Circumstantial Thought Process

The treatment for circumstantiality will depend on:

  • What's causing it
  • How bad it is
  • What works for you

Treatment options may include:

Medicines. Psychiatric medicines may improve your symptoms and help other treatments work better. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best type of medicine for your condition. Some types of psychiatric medications include:

Psychotherapy. This is also called talk therapy. Several types of psychotherapy can help your day-to-day go better and increase your wellbeing. The therapy can be short-term or long-term. Some types of psychotherapy can help give you tools to change your negative thought patterns and behaviors.

Residential treatment. You might need more intensive treatment if your underlying mental illness is serious. You may benefit from being in a psychiatric hospital or residential treatment program. This can happen if you can't take care of yourself or you're in danger of harming yourself or others.

Other types of therapy. A circumstantial thought process that's caused by autism or a cognitive disability may be treated with other types of therapy. These could be:

Lifestyle Changes to Help Circumstantiality

In most cases, you'll need a doctor's help if you have a thought disorder. There are some things that you can do to help yourself feel better and help your treatment work better. You should:

Show Sources


Academic Press: “COGNITIVE DYSFUNCTION AND OTHER COMORBIDITIES | Language and Communication Disorders.”

‌‌American Psychiatric Association: "What is Psychotherapy?"

CDC: "Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder."

Johns Hopkins: "Thought Disorder."

Journal of Psychiatric Research: "Thought Disorder Index: a longitudinal study of severity levels and schizophrenia factors."

Mayo Clinic: "Mental illness."

Mental Health America: "What is mania?"

Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment: "Distinctive Rorschach profiles of young adults with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder."

Schizophrenia Bulletin: "Disorders of Thought Are Severe Mood Disorders: the Selective Attention Defect in Mania Challenges the Kraepelinian Dichotomy—A Review."

StatPearls: "Circumstantiality."

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info