A new member of our PWS community, Barbara Baker, has skillfully chosen the Biblical “Moses” as one of the two main characters in a skillful movie skit. Moses is in many ways the founder of Judaism; and, hence, Christianity. It was he who set up both the Worship and the Laws of Judaism. Moses had a speech impediment. Many believe he stuttered. God ordered Moses to return to Egypt and free the Israeli slaves who were there in bondage to the Egyptians. Now, Moses was wanted for murdering an Egyptian soldier for beating an Israeli slave. For this reason, Moses fled Egypt. Now, some 40 years later, God orders Moses to go back to Egypt and to tell Pharaoh “to let my people go”. Obviously, Moses was hesitant to carry out God’s command. In the Skit, Barbara skillfully weaves an imaginary conversation between Moses and God about Moses’ stutter and his hesitancy to return to Egypt.
Audio interview with Chazzler DiCyprian and John Harrison
This is a slightly edited version of a keynote presentation by John C. Harrison delivered at the 2004 World Congress for People Who Stutter, held in Freemantle, Western Australia on February 15 – 20, 2004.
(Begin with stuttering demonstration)
There was a time when I was so petrified by having a moment that was not filled by words that I would sooner die than stand up here and be silent. I’m pleased to say those days are long past. I can’t think of anything more fun or more fulfilling than standing in front of an audience and feeling like I have something worthwhile to say.
The stuttering you saw a moment ago is indicative of how I would have spoken if you were my high school class, and I was up in front of you giving an oral report. My disfluencies began when I was three and my speech blocks started appearing a few years after that.
Unlike those who stutter most of the time, my stuttering was very situational. I could talk just fine when I was in the schoolyard chatting with my friends or playing football. But when I had to talk to the very same people in a classroom…or when I had to talk to an authority figure…or stop a stranger on the street to ask a question…or go to the market and ask for a container of milk…or get on a bus and ask for a transfer…I almost always had periods when I would lock up and not be able to speak.
So I know a lot about stuttering from the inside. I dealt with it until I was about 30 years old. And as a member of the National Stuttering Association for over 27 years, I’ve been intimately involved in all aspects of the stuttering community.
My participation in the NSA has given me exposure to a huge stuttering population. Not only did I function as the Associate Director for 14 years, I also participated in meetings of the San Francisco chapter for over a decade. And I was editor of the NSA newsletter, Letting GO, for nine years.
I’ve also conducted workshops all over the U.S. for people who stutter. And I’ve run workshops in Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and Australia.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve had extended correspondence on the Internet with literally thousands of stutterers around the world. I’ve taped scores of interviews. I mentor people on the net from many countries. I do coaching sessions over the phone. And I’ve followed people’s lives, some for as long as three decades. All this has been quite a learning experience. It has also validated the conclusion I came to almost 35 years ago…that for all the years we’ve been trying to understand stuttering, we’ve been using the wrong paradigm or model. We have incorrectly characterized what stuttering is all about.
But first, how many people are good at math? Okay, I have a little puzzle for you. These numbers are in this order for a particular reason. Can you tell me why they are in this sequence?
Take about five minutes or so and see if you can solve it.
(Really take five minutes! And don’t cheat. Remember, you’re being watched.)
Figured it out?
Many of you could spend a week trying to solve this puzzle (as I did) and still not find the answer.
Why is that?
Let me ask you — did I make it easier or harder for you to solve?
Harder, you say? Why is that?
Oh, you’re telling me I led you astray. I got you thinking along mathematical lines when I asked, “How many of you are good at math? I got you to use the wrong paradigm.
I’ll cop to it. That’s just what I did. And you went for it.
Do you know what a paradigm is? A paradigm is a filter through which we look at the world. A paradigm tells us what’s important to pay attention to…and what’s not. It’s the way we frame reality.
For example in governance, a democracy would be one kind of political paradigm. A dictatorship would be another. Communism would be a third. There’s also a monarchy, oligarchy, socialism, and so on. Each paradigm shapes how you look at governing people. Thus a crowd gathered in the square might be perceived by the head of state very different, depending on whether he was looking at it through the filter of a democracy, dictatorship, or another kind of political paradigm (filter).
In order to find the answer to the number puzzle, you had to approach it from within an entirely different paradigm. You had to drop the idea that this was a numerical puzzle and think outside the box.
If you still haven’t figured it out, flip forward to end of the article for the answer.
So what can we conclude from this? We can conclude that if you don’t use the right paradigm, the problem at hand becomes impossible to solve. This is precisely what has happened with stuttering since the development of speech pathology over 80 years ago.
Let me give you a little background. The birth of speech pathology is attributed to Carl Seashore who back in the early 20s was head of the Department of Psychology and the dean of the Graduate College at the State University of Iowa.
Although interest in speech and hearing processes was developing in a number of universities, it was Seashore who really molded the new discipline.
The next point I find particularly interesting. Originally, speech pathology was not just focused on the production of speech. Rather, it was conceived as an interdisciplinary specialty that focused on the scientific study of human communication. And listen to what it included — psychology, speech, psychiatry, otolaryngology, pediatrics, child development. In short, it was a discipline that looked at the whole person.
Now, into the picture comes Lee Travis. In the early 1920s, Lee Travis was a brilliant undergraduate at Iowa. Seashore recognized the potential of the young student, and in part, designed the new specialty of speech pathology around Travis’ talents. In 1924, Travis became one of the first people in the world to receive a Ph.D. based on study in this new field.
Travis stayed on at Iowa and headed the program through the 1930s, a period during which many of the future leaders of the field ended up as graduate students.
In the late 30s he left Iowa to become a professor at the University of Southern California. When Travis left Iowa, Wendell Johnson, one of his prize students, took over the speech program.
Johnson was a different kind of bird. Whereas Travis was basically a research scientist, Johnson’s interest was in developing effective therapy programs. He had made a name in General Semantics, and his diagnosogenic theory soon became the prevailing view of how stuttering developed. Johnson maintained that stuttering was caused by the parents’ misinterpretations of their child’s speech. They confused the child’s normal dysfluency for stuttering. In doing so, they required from the child a level of performance that the child could not attain. The subsequent reactions of both child and parents resulted in a worsening of the child’s speech.
By the early 1940s, the way people viewed stuttering was being influenced by four widely accepted misconceptions. First, there was the belief that all the various different kinds of stuttering were basically a manifestation of the same problem. This idea goes all the way back to Lee Travis. Listen to this quote from a chapter on how to deal with stuttering that Travis wrote in 1926 for a book called The Classroom Teacher.
“Basically,” said Travis, “stuttering and stammering are the same; practically, there is a slight difference. Both are due to the same causes and consist in the malfunctioning of the same mechanism, yet there is a slight difference in this malfunctioning.
“Stuttering,” said Travis, “may be thought of as an inability to combine syllables and words into words and sentences, which results generally in the repetition of the sound or word causing the difficulty. It is in the majority of cases an incipient form of stammering.
“Stammering, on the other hand, is a complete block in the flow of speech. At times the individual seems utterly incapable of producing the desired sound. He is, for the time being, obliged to give up entirely his efforts at speech production.”
Travis goes on. “More often the same person will stutter one time and stammer another. In this discussion stuttering will be used to include both terms.”
Believing that all stuttering was essentially a variation on the same theme was misconception number one. And it caused more confusion through the years.
Misconception number two was fostered by Wendell Johnson. His diagnosogenic theory, as I mentioned previously, focused on the way the parent related to the child’s speech. That, according to Johnson, was what caused stuttering. Period. End of discussion.
Well, he didn’t have the answer. All he had was a PIECE of the answer. But as a result, people stopped looking for any other contributing factors.
The third misconception came about because many of Johnson’s students at Iowa were headed for jobs in the school system. What do teachers and parents and school administrations look for? They look for fast, efficient answers. If Johnny can’t read, let’s teach him to read. If Johnny can’t do math, let’s teach him math. And following the same logic, if Johnny can’t speak properly, then let’s teach him to speak properly.
It built on the belief that stuttering could be addressed with a simple, direct approach, similar to how you might approach an articulation problem. Once again, it discouraged people from looking at the whole person.
The fourth misconception had to do with the belief that a third party observer could determine to a certainty whether or not someone was stuttering. Most stuttering research involved third party observers. I’ve had people tell me, “I know you’re a stutterer because I heard you stumble on a few words. The truth is, someone may be fairly disfluent and yet be totally relaxed and unselfconscious about their speech and never once actually block. Another person may sound totally fluent, and yet may be doing a great deal of avoiding and substituting and be living in constant fear of blocking.
What was lost over the years was the original idea that dealing with stuttering called for an interdisciplinary approach that addressed the entire person – their emotions, perceptions, beliefs, intentions, physiological make-up as well as the physical things they did when they spoke.
What I’m saying is that almost a century ago, when people attempted to characterize stuttering and how to address it, they did the best they could at the time.
But they got it wrong.
And those misconceptions have been perpetuated to this day and accepted as truth.
As a result, the first professors of speech pathology installed the wrong paradigm of stuttering in their students. Some of those students became professors, themselves. And they, in turn, passed along the same misconceived paradigm to their students. And so it went from generation to generation.
By the way, this kind of thing has happened in other areas. I remember when it was a commonly held belief that peptic ulcers were caused by worry and an overly acidic stomach. Then in 1982, Dr. Barry Marshall right here in Perth discovered that most peptic ulcers are actually caused by H. piloroi bacteria and could effectively be treated by antibiotics.
Until then, treatment of peptic ulcers was not very effective, because doctors were looking at these ulcers through the wrong paradigm. That’s the same thing that happened with stuttering.
Why didn’t anybody question the model of stuttering? First, the problem was very complex and therefore, very elusive and hard to define. The contributing factors were all things that lurked beneath the surface.
Secondly, the opportunities for self-discovery that exist today did not exist back in the 40s and 50s. Third, we in the west were not used to thinking holistically. Interdisciplinary studies were not very prevalent when I went to college. Every discipline was fit into its own separate pigeonhole.
Finally, there was little likelihood that students would challenge accepted beliefs. For one thing, they didn’t have the background to do that, especially if they didn’t stutter themselves. Would YOU have challenged the information in YOUR textbook? So the basic misconceptions of 80 years ago were passed along as the truth from one generation of teachers to the next. This made it extremely difficult for anybody to think outside the box.
But things began to change due to several major developments. The first was the evolution of holistic thinking, thanks to ideas coming to the West from Asia and to the evolution of new computer technology.
The second was the personal growth movement, which in the early 60s was just then taking root in California.
And the third, in the late 80s, was the birth of the Internet.
I came to San Francisco from New York in 1961. It was one of the best moves I ever made. Not only was northern California a Mecca for those seeking a different way of life, it was also the center of the burgeoning technology industry in Silicon Valley. As an advertising copywriter, I was exposed to systems thinking as I turned out promotional material for technology companies on the San Francisco peninsula.
I got to read the trade publications, and although a lot of it was over my head, I could usually pick up the gist of what they were saying. I saw how systems interacted and how and why computer intelligence was possible. I could see how, when you combined the right elements together, you could come out with something entirely new…something that was greater than the sum of the parts.
The second major development, as I mentioned, was the personal growth movement that began in California just about the time I came west. Two years with a psychoanalyst didn’t do much for me, but being a participant in self-discovery groups did. I got involved with them….not because of my speech, which was bearable…but because I was living on my own 3,000 miles from home without a clear sense of who I was. I was suffering enormous separation anxieties because I was away from the people who defined me, and I was unable at that time to define myself. And so, at the age of 26, I was feeling very desperate.
I made some enlightening discoveries in those groups. I discovered that I was a very emotional person who long ago had buried his feelings. And that wasn’t all.
I had a major self-assertion problem. I was afraid to speak my truth and say what I wanted. I was an approval junkie. I wanted everybody to like me and was devastated if somebody didn’t approve of what I did. I was overly impressed by authority. If I said “red” and somebody else said “blue,” I would automatically assume that it was blue. I didn’t trust my intuition. I had little self-confidence and self-esteem. And I was a perfectionist who was constantly afraid of doing something wrong. In short, I was so busy pleasing others that somehow the real me got lost.
As a by-product of three years of intense interaction with others in a group environment, I began to see that my blocking was not primarily a speech problem. Sure, my speech was involved, but even though I had figured out what I was doing when I blocked, that knowledge was only a small piece of the puzzle. My blocking MOSTLY had to do with the difficulties I had with the EXPERIENCE of EXPRESSING myself to others. That’s what drove the speech blocks.
I began to see that my stuttering was not a single problem, but a constellation of problems in a dynamic relationship.
It’s like this Lego car. I got this car at Toys R Us in San Francisco. But if you go into Toys R Us and look for this car, you know what? You won’t find it. You will not find this car. What you will find is a box of parts. It’s up to you to put the parts together in the right way to create the car.
That’s what I discovered about the nature of speech blocks. It’s not just any one element by itself that creates the blocking behavior. It’s how these elements go together. It’s about how they relate to one another.
This is why researchers looking for the cause of stuttering haven’t been able to find the answer. There’s nothing exotic about the parts of the system. What’s exotic is in how the parts come together.
So what are the parts?
Stuttering can be more accurately understood as a system involving the entire person—an interactive system that’s comprised of at least six essential components: behaviors, emotions, perceptions, beliefs, intentions and physiological responses.
This system can be visualized as a six-sided figure—in effect, a Stuttering Hexagon—with each point of the Hexagon connected to and affecting all the other points. It is the moment-by-moment dynamic interaction of these six components that maintains the system’s homeostatic balance.
You’ll understand this a little better when I tell you about the Hawthorne Effect. Anybody know what it is?
For many years until the breakup of AT&T, Western Electric Company was the manufacturing arm for all the phone companies of the Bell System. In the 1920s, the Western Electric plant in Hawthorne, Illinois, employed a small army of over 29,000 men and women in the manufacture of telephones, central office equipment, and other forms of telephone apparatus.
In the mid-20s, the plant began a series of studies on the intangible factors in the work situation that affected the morale and efficiency of shop workers. They figured – “Hey, we make so many parts here that even if we can increase production 1 percent, that can add up to big numbers. So let’s see if we can figure out how to improve worker output.”
In particular, the company wanted to know whether changing the lighting, break schedules, and other workplace conditions would lead to higher production.
One of the earliest experiments involved a group of six women from the coil winding production line. These volunteers were pulled from the line and relocated into a smaller room where various elements such as lighting, room temperature, and frequency of work breaks could be manipulated.
The first experiment looked at whether changing the intensity of the lighting would have a positive impact on production. The experimenters started out with the same lighting intensity the workers were used to on the production line. They then increased the light a few candlepower.
Production went up.
Wow. Were they excited! They really had stumbled on something. So they increased the room light by another few candlepower.
What do you think. Did production go up?
You’re right. Production went up again.
By now they were sure they were really onto something. So they continued to increase the room lighting a little bit more until the lighting in the room was several times the normal intensity. And each time they did, the production of the six women went up.
At this point, the researchers were really pleased with themselves.. But being good scientists, they felt they should validate their hypothesis that the lighting made a difference. So they brought the lighting back to the original starting point and dropped it by a few candlepower.
What do you think happened? Production went up.
So they dropped it even more. And once again, production went up. They continued to reduce the lighting in the room until the women were working in the dimmest of light. And production continued to rise until the lighting was so dim that the women could barely see their work. At that point, their output leveled off.
What do you think was going on?
The researchers finally determined that it wasn’t the lighting or any other environmental factor that accounted for the increase in production. It was the development of a social system. Something they weren’t even paying attention to.
Before the experiment began, the women were just cogs on a production line. They lacked any sense of importance. They had few meaningful relationships with their co-workers. Their supervisor was seen as an adversary. They had little personal responsibility for turning out a quality product. Someone else set the standards, and they just performed according to instructions. There was not much pride in what they did.
In short, it was just a job.
But all this changed when the six women were pulled from the production line and given their own private workspace. From the very beginning they were special, and they loved the extra attention. Each of the women was not just an impersonal face on the production line. She was now a “somebody.”
Because the women were organized into a small group, it was easier to communicate with one another, and friendships blossomed. The women began socializing after hours. They even began to visit each other at home. They joined together in recreational activities like picnics.
The relationship with their boss also changed. Instead of being feared, he was now someone they could turn to. A group identification formed, and with it came pride in what they did.
The improvements that took place were primarily explained by the impact of the social system that formed and the ways in which it impacted the performance of each individual group member. The authors of the study concluded that:
The work activities of this group, together with their satisfactions and dissatisfactions, had to be viewed as manifestations of a complex pattern of interrelations.
In other words, it was changing the nature of the social system that mostly accounted for the change. Over time, this phenomenon came to be known as the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect goes a long way to explain what causes the blocking and struggling we label as “stuttering.” The Hawthorne Effect also explains why stuttering therapy does or doesn’t work. And it explains why it’s hard to maintain your gains in the outside world.
What I want suggest is that when therapy does work, it’s not just the fluency techniques employed by the therapist that account for the improvement. Often, the speech therapy only plays a minor role. It’s the speech related therapy plus the personal relationship between clinician and patient that leads to a greater level of confidence and self-acceptance on the part of the client.
The more the client feels okay about himself, the less he blocks his spontaneity, and the more he’s willing to reveal his true self. Ultimately, this can lead to a dissolution of the holding back that underlies his speech blocks.
In short, fluency is to a large degree a by-product of the Hawthorne Effect. In fact, once you adopt this explanation, you can explain just about any question that anyone has ever had about stuttering.
Let’s set up a hypothetical situation. Let’s say that, as someone with a stuttering problem, you decide to work with a speech therapist. Let’s call him Sean. Sean has set up a two-week intensive program for a half dozen clients and is holding it at a local hotel. You’ll not only attend the program, you’ll also live at the hotel during that time…away from your familiar environment in a whole new world.
In addition, let us say that Sean employs a fluency shaping approach, which involves hours and hours of practice. In the first week you will also learn a whole lot about how speech is produced so that you can visualize the process in your mind. The second week is then spent practicing the technique in real-world situations, such as on the telephone, on the street, and in shops and restaurants.
At the end of the first week, you begin to see real progress. You have now demystified your stuttering by learning what’s going on in your voice box when you block. And because of the electronic feedback, you can now distinguish the difference between tight and relaxed vocal folds, something you were not aware of before. All this is very helpful.
But is that all that is going on?
Hardly. There’s a lot more, and it relates to the Hawthorne Effect.
Sean is an open and accepting person, and as you interact with him, you feel totally self-accepted, even during difficult speaking situations. Virtually every communication between you and Sean is designed, not just to pass along information, but to bolster your self-esteem. Every piece of negative feedback is accompanied by a positive statement that reinforces the idea that you’re okay. Sean really listens to all your concerns, and he shows infinite patience in exploring the issues with you. Nothing you say is ever devalued. And that’s true in your relationship with all the others in the training as well.
If you were in that situation, how would that affect you?
Pretty obvious. You begin to trust. Your self-esteem builds. Your self-confidence grows. And you become more self-accepting.
Now, in this environment, does it feel safer to express the real you? Well, sure it does. You feel acknowledged. You feel accepted. You feel validated. You’re no longer in crisis mode. All these positive changes begin to organize themselves into a self-reinforcing system that leads to letting go, and in many cases, to fluency which is a by-product of letting go. That is the Hawthorne Effect in action.
So lo and behold, by the end of the two-week program, your speech is easier and more fluent. And because, by this time, the system is self-supporting, your fluency continues…at least for a while…as you go back to your regular world.
How many people have had the experience of coming out of speech therapy really speaking well?
How long did it last for?
Why did you slip back?
Chances are, you didn’t slip back because you stopped practicing the right techniques. A lot of people continue to practice proper technique and they still slip back.
Why is that?
The answer is, it wasn’t just proper technique that made you more fluent to begin with. Sure, that was important. But it was also your relationship with those around you. They were there to support you. You felt good. You felt okay about yourself. But what happened when you left the training? Was everyone in the world committed to supporting you in the same way?
Uh-uh. In the real world, people were caught up in their own issues. They weren’t thinking about you. In fact, they may have actually put their needs before yours. Imagine that! How many here have had to fight for a parking place or deal with a rude bus driver or sales clerk?
How’d that make you feel? Wasn’t it more risky to let go and assert yourself in those situations?
So what happens? If you’re not also working on the other parts of the stuttering hexagon…such as the way you think and feel…you end up reacting to these cues from other people and start losing your trust and self-confidence. Then one day you find yourself blocked. This triggers a downward spiral, and eventually you’re back where you started.
All this is due to the Hawthorne Effect that’s operating in the background.
Over the years I’ve met many people who ended up relapsing after they had spent, in some cases, thousands and thousands of dollars in speech therapy programs. Some of the stories I heard really upset me.
I’m thinking of one very popular program in the U.S. that uses a fluency shaping approach. For years, people who went through this program were told in no uncertain terms that stuttering did not involve emotions and therefore, emotions would not be addressed. They were only going to work on mastering speech technique.
That’s crazy! And yet there are many people – maybe most people — who still believe this.
It’s not that the therapists in these programs aren’t sharp. They are. It’s just that the model of stuttering that they grew up with…the model they were given in school and on which they base their therapy…is flawed. It’s the wrong paradigm.
The concept of stuttering as, not a thing but a system, explains why stuttering is so hard to change. It’s not just your speech that has to change. IT’S YOUR ENTIRE SELF. This includes how you think. What you feel. What you believe. How you perceive. What your intentions are. What your self-image is. How you speak. All this is tightly organized into an interlocking, interactive system. It’s a living, self-perpetuating system that does everything it can to maintain itself.
Try and change just one part of it and you push the system out of balance. To reestablish that balance, the rest of your stuttering hexagon will try and bring back your speech to the point it was at before you began therapy.
THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF STUTTERING
One aspect of the stuttering system that has through the years caused major problems has been the use of the word “stuttering.” The ineffectiveness of this word to describe what’s really going on has caused all kinds of problems and has led to immense confusion and muddy thinking.
Let me give you an example of how the sloppy use of language leads to problems. One of the most enduring lines of all time was spoken by Bill Clinton on TV when he said, “I did not have sex with that woman.” Clinton took a very liberal interpretation of the word “sex.” And it led to all kinds of interesting problems.
How many of you have seen Oprah Winfrey? Oprah is the most successful and admired TV personality in the world and has enormous influence on millions of people in America.
On one of her programs, the subject was young, teenage girls who were having sex. There was this one 15-year-old who was going to parties and performing oral sex on some of her male classmates and this girl didn’t thing there was anything wrong in it….something that was shocking to millions of viewers. When she was asked by Oprah whether she knew that young girls shouldn’t be doing this, you know what her response was?
“That’s not sex.”
“What do you mean that’s not sex!” says Oprah.
“Well,” says the girl, “I know it’s not sex because the President of the United States says it wasn’t.”
That’s what happens when you don’t use language precisely. It leads to confusion. And it has consequences.
The same thing happens with stuttering. What do you mean by “stuttering?”
Are you talking about pathological disfluency? Developmental disfluency? Bobulating? Blocking? Stalling? Even though they may look alike at times, they’re all different. Each is driven by a different set of dynamics.
For example, bobulating is kind of a relaxed, stumbly disfluency that you hear when people are upset, embarrassed, confused or discombobulated. The person is able to talk, but their emotions are causing them to trip all over themselves.
On the other hand, when a person blocks, they are, for the moment, unable to talk. They’re feeling helpless. That helplessness can lead to panic and embarrassment. They become self-conscious. It’s a totally different kind of experience even though it may look the same.
When you call both of these stuttering…instead of bobulating and blocking…it forces you to make incorrect assumptions just like the girl did on the Oprah show.
An ineffective vocabulary is just one reason why this problem has not been clearly understood and in most cases, incorrectly characterized and addressed.
WE NEED TO APPROACH THE PROBLEM DIFFERENTLY
What does all this mean? It means we have to start approaching the problem of stuttering in a more, all-inclusive way. If I hadn’t done that, I’d still be blocking.
Practitioners in the field need to broaden their perspective. That’s tough, because there has been in the past…and I think still exists in most places…a prejudice among professionals against those who take a holistic approach. I’ve had many conversations with speech pathologists who have taken this approach, and I’ve heard many of their sad tales.
I have a speech therapist friend, Claudia Dunaway at San Diego State University who I met about seven years ago. She had read a paper that I had delivered in a workshop at an annual meeting of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association. Turns out, I was the first person from the stuttering community to confirm her own observations that this problem involved a lot more than just speech. She knew it did, but nobody had ever validated it for her. So when she read my article about the Stuttering Hexagon, she was so excited she flew up to San Francisco and bought me dinner. And we talked into the wee hours.
What’s interesting about Claudia is that when she was younger, she was involved in the free speech movement. Meaning what? Meaning that she spent several years exploring her feelings and her beliefs. She examined different lifestyles and her own life issues. She became very open minded and sensitive to who people were as people. She learned to look below the surface. Later on, she applied this knowledge and sensitivity and perspective to her clients very successfully when she became a speech therapist.
But talk to Claudia and her associates at San Diego State and you hear about the closed minds they encounter at professional conferences. So many of the professionals just don’t want to deal with this holistic view of stuttering.
If I have one bone to pick with the professional community, it’s that more of you don’t take advantage of the most important resource you have…the actual people who stutter…and especially, the most overlooked resource of all — those who have recovered.
I mean, if you wanted to get to the top of Everest, where would you go for guidance? Would you only talk to people who have read books about climbing Everest or those who tried to climb it but haven’t yet succeeded?
Or would you also chat with the 500 or so who have actually achieved the summit and ask them, “Hey guys, how did you do it? Tell me in detail what the problems were? What worked? What didn’t? What did you need to know? What was helpful? WHO was helpful? What did you learn? There are a hundred questions you could ask.
But do researchers seek out recovered stutterers and ask those questions?
As a member of the National Stuttering Association, I’ve been in contact with the professional community for over 27 years. How many researchers would you guess went out of their way to ask me how I recovered?
The answer is…only two! Two people in 27 years.
You saw at the beginning of this talk, how, in trying to solve the puzzle using the wrong paradigm, you could have worked on it for a week with no success.
From what I have seen, and from my own recovery, I am convinced that the mysteries of chronic stuttering have eluded us for the same reason. All this time, the pieces to the puzzle have been sitting there right under our very noses. The answers are found by using a different model of stuttering that takes into account the many aspects of the individual – his emotions, perceptions, beliefs, intentions, physiological makeup, speech behaviors – and how all of these factors are woven together to create what we call chronic stuttering.
If you professionals see us as partners, and not just patients, and if we in the stuttering community continue to play an active role by offering our own personal observations… and if we continue to share our thoughts and ideas and findings all over the Internet…we will begin to see answers to a problem that has eluded us for over 5,000 years.
So what do you say? Are you ready to challenge your old beliefs? Are you ready to open your mind to new possibilities? Are you ready to make a paradigm shift?
It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you today.
Answer to the puzzle: the numbers are in alphabetical order
As a person who stutters, working on your self-confidence through altering the way you talk to yourself, facing challenging speaking situations head-on and working on your self-image, can all help with dealing with the emotional problems associated with stuttering, or stammering. However, overcoming the anxiety of stuttering is something that takes real effort; sometimes months and even years’ worth. What can really assist you on your path in overcoming the anxiety of stuttering is learning to create powerful states, and practice getting into those states whenever you need them; doing so can help you during those moments when the anxiety of stuttering comes back. Below is an exercise you can use to overcome the anxiety of stuttering using your most highest and meaningful belief (I would like to give credit to Dr Bobby G. Bodenhamer as the following steps are an adaptation of his ‘Bitter Root to Jesus Pattern’).
In this exercise, you will learn a very powerful technique to eliminate the anxiety of stuttering when needed. I will talk you through each step using a hypothetical character whose name is Rod and he is a person who stutters. Read the steps in the exercise a few times to get familiarised with it first and then come back to the start to begin it.
Step 1 – Identify the challenging speaking situation that makes you anxious
In the first step, think of a particular speaking situation that makes you anxious. This could be a situation that has already happened where you stuttered, or it could be imagining one in the future where you might have to speak and you are worried you will stutter.
In this step, Rod’s difficult speaking situation, which makes him anxious, is going to the house of a close family friend at the weekend where he knows there will also be other guests there. He usually stutters in such a situation.
Think of your own challenging speaking situation and write it down.
Step 2 – Get a visual image of the speaking situation that makes you anxious on the screen of your mind and notice its qualities
Get a visual image of the difficult speaking situation on the screen of your mind and notice its qualities (e.g. its colour, size, location, brightness/darkness, distance, focus, sounds, feelings, associated/dissociated etc.)
Notice what the image of the situation looks like in your mind. Are you looking out of your own eyes? Or can you see yourself in the image? Where is the image located? Is the image in focus, or blurred? Notice any sounds in it, other people talking, music, etc. and notice how you feel in it. Notice any anxious feelings, or any fear, or frustration or any other unhelpful emotions you are experiencing. You will most likely begin to feel anxiety in your body. Just remind yourself that you are not in the situation for real. You are only thinking about it.
For Rod’s example, he gets a visual image of himself at the family friend’s house. The image is right in front of him and is bright and in focus. He is looking out of his own eyes and is feeling very anxious in his body. Rod is sitting on a chair at the dinner table and he can see the host sitting near him at the table. His wife is pouring drinks in the kitchen and their two adult kids are standing up. He can see his own family sitting further away in the living room. There is also another family there as well. A husband and his wife are sitting at the same table as Rod. They have two young children who are playing in the middle of the living room. Another couple, a husband and wife are sitting in the living room. Rod is feeling very nervous and is worried someone at the table he is sitting at will start a conversation with him and that he will stutter.
For your own difficult speaking situation get a visual image of it on the screen of your mind and notice its qualities
Step 3 – Think of your highest belief
In this step, think of your highest and most powerful belief. This is something that you really believe in, very strongly. For example, your highest belief could be your belief in God, Jesus, Allah, Krishna, universal love, or universal connectivity.
For this step, Rod thinks of his highest belief. His is his belief in the universe.
Step 4 – Get a visual image of your most powerful belief on the screen of your mind and notice its qualities
In this step, get a visual image on the screen of your mind of your highest belief (in God, Jesus, Allah, universal love etc.). Once you have an image of your highest belief, notice its qualities (e.g. colour, size, location, brightness/darkness, focus, distance, sounds, feelings, dissociated/associated etc.).
For Rod’s example, he gets a visual image on the screen of his mind of his highest belief, which is his belief in the universe. He can see a huge image of the universe high above on the right of the screen of his mind. He is looking at the image as opposed to looking out of it. The image is made up of dark space that is interspersed with huge, shining lights representing planets, stars, and galaxies, and the rays from these lights are pouring out and are bright yellow. Rod can feel the enormous power from these lights all throughout his body.
Get a visual image of your highest belief and notice what it looks like. Is it big or small? Is it bright or dark? Where is the image located? Usually, our highest belief is located up high. It may help for you to hold your head level and without moving your head, keeping your chin, level, role your eyes back into your head and see your highest belief. Are there any sounds in the image of your highest belief? If so, what are the qualities of the sounds? As you do this, notice what this image of your highest belief means to you and how it makes you feel.
Step 5 – Get both images on the screen of your mind
In step 5, you will prepare to merge both images together.
For Rod’s example, he does this by entertaining two images on the screen of his mind. One is of him worried that he will stutter at the social gathering at his family friend’s house. He sees this image right in front of him on the screen of his mind. He then sees the image of his highest belief, which is the universe, high above on the right of the screen of his mind. Do something similar with your two images. Get an image of the difficult speaking situation on the screen of your mind. Next, get an image of your highest belief.
Step 6 – Give the image of the challenging speaking situation to the image of your highest belief
Next, keeping your head and chin level, using your eyes only, with your eyes, move the image of you struggling in the speaking situation to the location of the image of your highest belief and give it to this image. As you move the image of you struggling in the speaking situation towards the image of your highest belief, allow the image of you having difficulties to merge with the image of your highest belief.
Using Rod’s example, keeping his head and chin level, with his eyes only, he moves the image of him worrying about stuttering at the social gathering hosted by the family friend up towards the image of the universe and the challenging speaking situation image merges with the image of the universe.
Do something similar with your two images.
Step 7 – Notice how you feel now
In the final step in this exercise, notice how you now feel about the negative image about your speaking situation after you have given it to the image of your highest belief.
Typically what happens when you do this is you no longer feel anxious about the image of the difficult speaking situation. This is because you have given it to the image of your highest belief. The meanings you have attached to your highest belief are very strong and powerful and usually overbear the negative feelings associated with the image about the difficult speaking situation.
When Rod does this with his example, after he moves the image of the social gathering situation where he is worried he might stutter up to the image of the universe and merges the two, the negative feelings associated with the difficult image of him at the social gathering completely disappear and he feels like he can approach this situation with confidence.
Notice any changes in how you feel and how your perception towards the challenging speaking situation has changed. Make some notes of any changes you experience.
About the Author
Hiten Vyas is a life coach, author and speaker. In his coaching practice, he specializes in helping people who stutter overcome speaking related anxieties and increase their self-confidence.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) offers various tools to model unhelpful states such as anxiety associated with stuttering, or stammering. To counter negative emotions, NLP also offers techniques to develop new and empowering states as replacements to those that hold a person who stutters back in life.
Underlying the NLP model for creating change is a number of ‘statements’, beliefs or assumptions that are taken as granted. As a person who stutters, or stammers, you can apply these to yourself no matter what your current circumstances maybe. In the NLP world, these are known as the ‘NLP Presuppositions’.
They are very powerful and can prove to be great resources. Below I share five NLP presuppositions, describe what each one means and explain how each one can help you to deal with stuttering.
- There is no failure, only feedback
This is my favourite presupposition and arguably the most well-known. It is an attitude, which supports any activity you do in your journey to overcoming stuttering. By adopting it and living it, you give yourself permission to try out things, which push you out of your comfort zone such as public speaking or speaking to random strangers, experiment while doing such activities and make mistakes.
Because when you make a mistake, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s just feedback you can use to change and adapt what you’re doing, in order to continue increasing your self-confidence and breaking down fears associated with stuttering.
- Our map is not the territory; it is but a map, a symbolic representation of the territory.
This NLP presupposition helps you to challenge your perspectives about your stuttering. As an example, let’s say you gave a sales presentation at work in front of a client and two of his colleagues. You stuttered quite a bit during it. After you left the meeting, you thought you did really badly and felt you had humiliated yourself because you stuttered. However, your client and his colleagues when reflecting on your presentation felt you had really got across the message about how your company’s services could help them.
What this illustrates is your ‘maps’ about yourself and stuttering are never complete. You can’t recollect completely accurately what happened during situations where you might have stuttered. Your ‘maps’ may contain information about stuttering incidents that is distorted or deleted even. Therefore, this gives rise to the opportunity to challenge those ‘maps’, which are not helping you to navigate the world happily and alter them into better ones.
- We respond according to our map of the territory, not the territory
What this NLP presupposition can help you understand is what you believe to be reality about yourself and your stuttering only exists in your mind. You respond to this ‘reality’. This reality is created by your senses (your eyes, ears, feelings, taste and smell) and the way to talk to yourself (self-talk). And you have these experiences through filters of thoughts and beliefs you already have about yourself as a person who stutters, or stammers.
Let’s use the previous example I used when describing the ‘our map is not the territory’ NLP presupposition, which is giving a presentation to a client and two of his colleagues at work. The presentation represents the ‘territory’. You deliver the presentation and create a ‘map’ about it. Your ‘map’ is that you did terribly because you stuttered. Your client and his colleagues listen to your presentation. However, the ‘map’ your client and his colleagues create about the presentation is that you explained the benefits of your company’s services really well.
This realisation is a very important one. By responding according to your own ‘maps’ of the ‘territory’, you’re responsible for them because you created them. You needn’t believe or feel any other person or anything external to you is the cause of your problems associated with stuttering. After all, remember, you’re not responding to ‘what is out there’. You’re responding to your ‘maps’ of what is out there and these can be changed, because you’re the one who made them in the first place.
- The meaning of communication is the response I get
So you stutter when talking with other people. However, the way you communicate is far more than the way you speak. Rather than focusing on your speech, try focusing on getting across the message you want to convey to the person you’re speaking with, and consider whether you’re getting the response you want.
For example, if you’re trying to explain directions to a stranger on the street and you stutter, and find the person you’re speaking with doesn’t understand you, or you’re not getting the response you want, rather than blaming the other person for judging you because of the way you’re speaking (which the person probably isn’t doing anyway!), you can just change the way you are communicating, using a whole host of tools at your disposal. This could involve using a different tone of voice, or certain words or a particular facial expression.
- People are not broken; they work perfectly well
This is an extremely helpful NLP presupposition.
What it means is you may be experiencing problems related to stuttering. Although it may seem like life isn’t a party, nothing is wrong about you. All you’re doing is running ‘unhelpful maps’ in your mind really competently.
For instance, if you’re a person who stutters and just the thought of picking up a ringing phone makes you get anxious and fearful, then what this means is, you’ve just learnt to create anxiety in this particular context in an expert way!
And if you’ve learnt to create anxiety in the context of answering the phone really well, you can learn to create another more resourceful response, such as a state of confidence to help you pick up the phone when it rings.
How you can use these NLP presuppositions to help you deal with stuttering?
In this article, I’ve explained five key NLP presuppositions and shared some ideas of how you can apply them to your stuttering. In order to help you embed them within you, contemplate on them and imagine ways of how you can apply them to various situations where stuttering is causing you problems. Say them out loud to yourself 10 times a day. Use them as daily affirmations, to help engrave them into you, so they become powerful beliefs by which you live your life.
About the Author
Hiten Vyas is a life coach, author and speaker. In his coaching practice, he specializes in helping people who stutter overcome speaking related anxieties and increase their self-confidence.
If you’re a person who stutters, or stammers then you may have noticed one thing – a link between anxiety and stuttering, i.e. before you actually stutter, you feel anxious about the prospect of speaking. This article contains an adaptation of the famous Swish Pattern from the field of NLP, which you can use to create a new self-image to help you deal with anxiety and stuttering. Before I explain the technique, I’m going to explain the link between anxiety and stuttering using an example.
An Example of the Link between Anxiety and Stuttering
Michelle is a person who stutters. One particular situation where she usually stutters is when she says her friend Dina’s name. Michelle has been analysing how she feels just before attempting to say Dina’s name. She has been monitoring her thoughts—the images and movies going on in the screen of her mind. When she thinks about saying Dina’s name, she realises she is remembering previous times she stuttered when saying her friend’s name. She is creating horror films on the screen of her mind and picturing herself really struggling to say Dina’s name. This makes Michelle feel extremely anxious and sends terror down her spine.
The Stimulus-Response Model to help explain Anxiety and Stuttering
Anxiety and stuttering can be explained using the stimulus-response model. For instance, let’s say a challenging speaking situation for you is talking to your boss because you usually stutter when you do so. You dread this type of situation. Just thinking about it sends shivers down your back. In this case, you have created an unhelpful response (which is experiencing dread, worry etc.) to the stimulus, which is a thought you have in your mind about speaking to your boss. This thought triggers anxiety, which you feel in your body. Usually this results in you avoiding speaking to your boss whenever you can.
How to Change Your Self-Image – An Adaptation of the Swish Pattern
In the following exercise, you will create a powerful and empowering self-image so that when you think of a difficult speaking situation, you will send your brain to your new self-image so that you feel confident and motivated to go into the speaking situation, instead of avoiding it.
First, read each step in the exercise a few times and follow the example of a hypothetical person (Garry) to give you an idea of what to do. After this, come back to the beginning to do the exercise yourself.
Step 1 – Identify the Challenging Speaking Situation to be Changed
Think of a speaking situation which causes you to feel anxious. Try and think of a speaking situation which will be happening soon, either in few days or a few weeks’ time. The negative emotion(s) you experience can be referred to as a state.
I will talk you through this with an example. Garry is a person who stutters and he has been invited to a wedding in a week’s time. Garry finds it difficult to go to weddings because he worries he will stutter when speaking to other guests.
Think of your own difficult, upcoming speaking situation and write it down.
Step 2 – Identify the Image of this Speaking Situation Experience
In this step, you get a full image of your difficult speaking situation on the screen of your mind. This is called the ‘cue picture’, which triggers the feelings of anxiety inside you. Whatever your difficult speaking situation you want to change is, imagine yourself there. You can either imagine a previous experience where you were in a similar speaking situation, or imagine one which will happen in the future. Identify what sounds and feelings are in the picture. Identify the brightness, distance and colour.
Using Garry’s wedding example, in this step he gets an image in his mind of a wedding. It is a wedding he went to last year. Inside it, he is looking out of his own eyes and he can see other guests sitting on chairs. The picture is in colour. He also sees men standing around who he knows. Some of them are extended family members. Others are family friends. The overall picture is clear and the other people in it are close to him. He is worried about chatting with others around him because he is afraid he might stutter. This image creates anxiety in his body.
Do something similar for you own difficult speaking situation. Once you have got such an image on the screen of your mind, notice the negative feelings it creates in you. After you have done this, mentally put this image to one side and move onto the next step.
Step 3 – Develop a Desired Self-Image Picture
What would your desired self-image look, sound and feel like? This would be a self-image where you spoke confidently and without fear. Create your new picture on the screen of your mind and give it visual characteristics and add any sounds and feelings to it. Create a picture of this you that would no longer become anxious about stuttering. Make this image as compelling as possible and keep adjusting it, by changing its colour and any sounds and feelings in it, until it is very attractive.
Consider the following questions to help you create such an image. If you no longer had this type of response to this particular speaking situation, how would you see yourself as being different? What would be the value of changing this way of being? What would it mean about you?
For instance, for this step, Garry imagines the new him who would have no problem going to weddings and speaking to other guests. He can see himself standing tall and proud, smiling a lot and he feels confident at a wedding. He is dressed smartly. At the wedding, Garry is confidently chatting with his family members and family friends. He can see himself having fun and he is feeling really good about himself.
Now, you do something similar and create a picture of the powerful and confident you. Keep making changes to the characteristics of the picture until it really compels you and draws you in. Stay on this step as long as you need to before moving onto the next one.
Step 4 – Link the Two Pictures
Begin with the ‘cue picture’ of the speaking situation that triggers the anxiety in you and make it big and bright.
Into the lower left corner of that picture put a small, dark image of the second picture – the desired you for whom this speaking situation is no problem.
At this point you are entertaining two images in your mind. You are seeing the world from your own eyes in the ‘cue picture’ and seeing the empowered you in the tiny dot in the lower left corner. You are looking out of your own eyes in the first picture and dissociated (you can see yourself) in the second.
Using Garry’s example, he is now seeing two images in his mind. He is looking out of his own eyes into to the image of him at the wedding and feeling anxious about all the extended family and family friends around him. He can also see a little dot in the lower left corner of the confident him who is enjoying being at a wedding.
Do something similar for your two images.
Step 5 – Switch the Pictures
In this step, you will quickly allow the ‘cue picture’ to fade out far back into the distance and at the same time you will let the dot that contains the desired image to very quickly get bigger and brighter and closer. As the ‘cue picture’ gets smaller, darker and distant, let the new picture of you switch in and completely cover the screen of your mind. You do this very quickly in less than a second.
So, for Garry’s example, he quickly allows the image of him being very anxious at a wedding move backwards into the distance and fade away. At the same time, he allows the desired image of the confident him at a wedding to get bigger and quickly move closer to him so that it covers the screen of his mind. All of this takes a maximum of a second.
Do the same with your two images.
Step 6 – Switch 5 Times
After the first switch, close your eyes and blank out the screen of your mind. Alternatively, open your eyes and look around.
In Garry’s example, after he has done the first switch, he opens his eyes and looks around at the room he is in.
You too, close your eyes and blank out the screen of your mind then open your eyes and look around at your surroundings.
Now do it again. Go back to the linked pictures and repeat the process 5 times. After each switch, clear your mental screen either by closing your eyes or opening them and looking around you.
Step 7 – Test
Now test to see if this has worked. Allow yourself to think about the triggering ‘cue picture’ that sets off the anxiety about the prospect of stuttering. Notice what happens. As you think about the ‘cue picture’ does your mind now immediately go to the new picture of the confident you? If so, it has worked.
In Garry’s example, after he has switched his two images 5 times, he now allows himself to think of the first image of him feeling anxious at the wedding. As he does this, his mind now automatically switches to the image of the confident him who is enjoying himself speaking with other people at a wedding.
Do the test yourself now, and see if your mind automatically goes to the image of the new you who is very confident, instead of the image of you struggling in a speaking situation.
If you mind doesn’t go straight to the new you image go back to step 6 and switch both images 5 more times and then test again.
If you’re serious about overcoming the fear and anxiety of stuttering or stammering, you probably have read or are reading lots of self-help books. One idea, which is fundamental throughout many of self-help books you might read, is the area of self-talk. You might never has realised you talk to yourself. You always did. However, you weren’t really conscious of it, or what you were saying to yourself. It happened very quickly. When you sit down to imagine situations where you might stutter or stammer you begin to notice that, indeed, you do talk yourself. And what you’re saying could be very negative. Below are some things you might say to yourself:
I can’t go to that party because I might have to speak and people will see me stammer.
I can’t go to that meeting at work because people might ask me questions and I will stammer.
I can’t go for dinner with all those people there because I won’t talk and they will think I’m weird.
My uncle will be at the party. I always stammer around him.
Only after catching yourself saying such things, do you realise how much they contribute to your feeling anxious and worried. They add fuel to your avoidance of situations where you might stutter or stammer. In order to begin to address this, what you can do is change the way you talk to yourself. You can begin to say positive statements about yourself. This is known in the personal development field as positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are positive statements that you tell yourself, which describe the type of person you want to be. You could write down statements like the following:
I am confident.
I can speak articulately.
I am good enough.
Exercise – Unhelpful Self-talk and Positive Statements
In this exercise, you will notice the type of unhelpful self-talk you currently say to yourself. You will then replace this with other statements that are positive and empowering. Use the following steps and have a pen and piece of paper handy to make notes. This exercise will work best if you actually have an upcoming speaking situation in the future, which normally makes you anxious because of your stuttering, or stammering. If you don’t have one then this is fine. Still proceed with the steps in this exercise:
1. Think about an upcoming speaking situation, which you would normally become anxious about because of your stuttering, or stammering. Think of one which will be coming up soon, if possible. As you do, notice any unhelpful words or phrases you say to yourself and then write them down. For example, let’s say you are going to a party for a colleague who is leaving your company. As examples, the sentences you might tell yourself are: I can’t handle leaving parties because I have to talk to colleagues or I always stammer when talking to colleagues when we’re having dinner. Think of similar types of statements you say to yourself and write them down. Write down as many statements, words and phrases about yourself, your stammering and this particular speaking situation as you can.
2. Think of 5 positive statements about this particular speaking situation instead, and write them down. For instance, if the speaking situation you found difficult was going to work leaving parties for a colleague at work, positive statements you might write are:
I really enjoy going to leaving parties.
I’m always very social at leaving parties.
I feel confident at leaving parties.
I’m a great conversationalist at leaving parties.
I love being the centre of attention at leaving parties.
3. Write down your own similar statements, ensuring they are positive and in the present tense. It doesn’t matter if you don’t fully believe your statements, yet. The purpose of this exercise is to get into the habit of changing the way you talk to yourself.
4. Now, if you already did believe these statements, how you would you repeat the statements to yourself? Say, out loud, each of your statements 20 times while standing up, with a confident posture, using a powerful tonality and a loud and clear voice. Do this every day either in the morning or at night. As you say these statements, notice how you feel. If you feel confident and empowered, just recognise how you have the power to change how you feel by changing the words you say to yourself.
After you have completed this exercise, move onto the next one.
Exercise – Using Positive Statements before Going into Speaking Situations
In this exercise, you will now use the motivation you have created from the exercise above, to go into a speaking situation you normally find difficult. The purpose of this exercise is to allow your mind to begin to process your new way of talking to yourself and gain experience of going into a speaking situation, with such language embedded in your mind-body. On the day of the particular speaking situation, repeat the statements from the first exercise before you go out. Allow yourself to feel motivated and experience any other helpful emotions associated with saying your positive statements.
As you are starting out on working on your anxiety caused by stuttering, or stammering, and begin to use positive statements, you may find your motivation increases. However, the chances are you might still find it difficult to go into a speaking situation you normally find challenging. If this is the case, you need to put yourself into the situation. There really is no other way about it. Otherwise, what will happen is you will make yourself feel good through saying positive statements to yourself and that will be it. Remember not to be hard on yourself if you still find it challenging to go to a particular speaking situation. You are developing new attitudes and behaviours and these will take some time to settle inside you.
While at the speaking situation, use your positive statements as a way to change your behaviour. For instance, make an effort to be the first person to start a conversation with someone next to you. If you stammer when you do so, just engage with the person for a few minutes. Or, if a group of people are having a conversation at the bar, share a story with everyone by speaking out loud and letting the others listen to you. Again if you stammer, say what you want to say and take as much time as you need.
At the very least go to the speaking situation and just observe how you feel and listen to others. Just notice how your feelings of being uncomfortable emerge, last for some time and then pass. Once you come back home, don’t make judgements about whether you did well in the situation or not. You made a big achievement, which was confronting your fears and going anyway.
If you’re a person who stutters or stammers, a key thing to recognise is that events that happen to you, which involve stuttering, either in the outside world, or thoughts you have in your mind do not cause you to have unhelpful emotions such as anxiety. It is your interpretations and meanings you have given about the events and your thoughts about stuttering, which impact how you feel. However, your interpretations can often contain errors, which mean that the meanings you attach to your experiences where you may have stuttered previously, or might stutter in the future are not always correct. This is useful to know as it provides the basis to overcome negative thoughts about stuttering or stammering.
Errors in Thoughts about Stuttering
When you get involved in incidents where you stutter and have thoughts in response to those incidents, and when you think of stuttering incidents at a later time and again feel negative emotions inside your body, the thoughts you have seem so real. After all you feel their effects in your body. However, the truth is that the thoughts you have often contain lots of distortions and errors. Usually you don’t see these errors, unless you actually take time to analyse your thoughts. Below you will learn about 5 types of errors you can have in negative thoughts about stuttering. Each error is explained with an example, along with some tips on how you can overcome these errors.
1. Making it Personal
With this type of error, an incident occurs where you stuttered and you end up taking the result of it personally rather than looking at the incident objectively, to see if other factors might be playing a part in what happened.
Jamie works at a local charity shop and a customer called Maureen who is a person who stutters often comes in to chat. Jamie has been very busy today and is feeling quite stressed. When Maureen comes into the shop, and tries to start a conversation with Jamie, she starts to stutter when she speaks. Jamie doesn’t talk much and Maureen perceives him as being impatient because of her stuttering. When Maureen leaves, she blames herself for Jamie’s behaviour and tells herself that Jamie became impatient because I was stuttering. This type of statement is an example of making thoughts about stuttering personal because Maureen has incorrectly assumed that Jamie was impatient because of her.
How to Tackle Making it Personal
In order to handle negative thoughts about stuttering where you’ve been personalising, think of alternative explanations of situations and events that have nothing to do with you, or your stuttering.
2. Rejecting the Positive
Rejecting the positive involves taking an event or situation where you stuttered, which is actually positive, but where you discount the positive aspect and make it into a negative event.
Rachel has just given a speech at her public speaking group. While delivering the speech, Rachel stuttered little. During the coffee break, a fellow member Beverly comments to Rachel how she thoroughly enjoyed her speech. Rachel believes Beverly only said this because she felt sorry for her because she stuttered during her speech.
How to Tackle Rejecting the Positive
To work on this type of thinking error, you can consciously make an effort to acknowledge positive comments made about you where you may have stuttered, by putting yourself first and believing that indeed a positive compliment that someone gives you, is because of you and not because someone is taking pity on you.
3. Strong Language
Strong language means the use of words that can affect you strongly emotionally, often in unhelpful ways. The words you use can either cause you to feel bad about yourself and your stuttering, and other people, which can then impact whether you can tolerate certain situations, or are able to react in calmer ways.
Phil is going out with his friends Grant and Ian. Grant tells Phil that another friend called Max is also coming. Phil doesn’t like Max because Max is very confident and when Phil is around Max, he feels insecure and stutters more. Phil says to himself I’m worried of Jack. He’s just so confident and I feel insecure around him. By using the emotive word worried, Phil creates a lot of anxiety in him, which then results in him staying at home. Instead, if Phil had said Jack is just being Jack. It’s the way he is. He’s never really judged me because of my stuttering; he would have felt far less emotive and would still have been able to go out with his friends.
How to Tackle Strong Language
When you think of scenarios where you might stutter (either in the past or in the future) and find yourself talking about them out loud or talking to yourself about them, be mindful of the words you say and ensure you refrain from using terms that will inflame the way you are feeling. Instead, use words that will help to describe stuttering events in the most neutral and objective way possible.
4. Using Feelings
Using feelings means when you use your feelings as evidence for why situations where you stutter, people who are around you when you stutter and yourself as a person who stutters are the way they are. However, it is important to remember, that just because you feel something, it doesn’t make it a fact.
Suresh is a person who stutters has just come back from work. He remembers an incident at work earlier in the day when he was a business networking meeting. He noticed there was another delegate at the meeting who he heard stuttering. Suresh avoided speaking to this man as he was worried it would trigger his own stuttering. Suresh now feels very guilty for avoiding this other man and concludes that he is a very bad person.
How to Tackle Using Feelings
If you notice your thoughts about stuttering being taken over by strong feelings, a way you can deal with this is through noticing thoughts you have, which cause you to state certain facts. For instance this could be, ‘I’m feeling fearful that I might stutter, which means I’m a weak person’ or ‘I’m angry with myself because I stuttered while talking with the assistant in the shop. If you find yourself having such thoughts, which evoke strong feelings inside you, acknowledge that just because you are feeling certain emotions, it doesn’t mean they represent facts and the truth.
5. Jumping to Conclusions
With jumping to conclusions you can create a negative interpretation of an event where you stuttered without there being any facts that can act as real evidence for doing so.
Jasmine is out shopping and comes across a friend called Rick who she hasn’t seen for a while. Jasmine and Rick start chatting and while Jasmine is talking, she starts to stutter. Rick has a facial expression on his face. Jasmine perceives this look to mean Rick thinking she is weird. She concludes that the friend looked at her in a strange manner because she started to stutter. In truth, Jasmine’s friend was thinking about getting home to his dog who hadn’t been well.
How to Tackle Jumping to Conclusions
If you find yourself coming to a conclusion about how someone perceives or feels about you and your stuttering, ask yourself how you really can be sure if this is the truth, or if it isn’t just something you have imagined in your mind? Consider how realistic this conclusion really is and whether there any are real hard facts to support it.
Conversely, if what you are concluding is about an event where you might stutter in the future, then remind yourself that you are creating a fantasy about what might happen. You can never know what will happen for certain until it happens, which will always be in the present moment and not in the future.
If you’re a person who stutters, or stammers (PWS) and are looking for ways to help yourself to overcome challenges around speaking, you may have come across Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) as a form of therapy. There are a number of great articles and resources about NLP and stuttering on the Internet. In this article, I’ve selected ten articles about NLP and stuttering you should read if you’re serious about using NLP to help you with your stutter, or stammer.
Written by Alan Badmington, this article gives an initial account of Alan’s experiences with stuttering, or stammering. He then writes about his use of tools that helped him to create control over his speech, however, Alan also explains his realisation that his inner world in the form of what he believed about himself remained fragile. Hence, he began to look at ways to change his internal chatter and concept of self-image. Alan gives an excellent overview of how limiting beliefs are created and how they can continue to torture us for years, unless we recognise them for what they are, and explains how they can be challenged. He also writes about how visualisation helped him alter his self-image and take control of what movies he created in his mind.
Dr L. Michael Hall and Dr Bobby G. Bodenhamer in their article, look at stuttering and how states contribute to the actual behaviour of stuttering, where a state of stress kicks things off. This state of stress is then meta-stated with what people who stutter say to themselves, which negates their stuttering (e.g. “I must not stutter”) and creates anticipatory anxiety that precedes the stutter. Dr Hall and Dr Bodenhamer explain the opposite to stuttering, which they define as speaking in a relaxed manner – states associated with this relaxed speaking could be feeling calm without self-consciousness. The article also includes an interesting case study where Dr Bodenhamer talks a person who stutters through the Drop Down Through Pattern, a powerful NLP technique for stuttering; the result of which is the person who stutters speaking fluently and calmly afterwards.
This article is written by Nigel Wilson who shares his views on stuttering, or stammering and his experiences of applying NLP and Neuro-Semantics (a field, which is an extension of NLP and formalised by Dr L. Michael Hall and Dr Bobby G. Bodenhamer) to his own stutter. Nigel shares some interesting questions around why people who stutter can speak fluently in certain contexts (e.g. talking to oneself or to a pet), yet stutter in other situations. He continues to discuss how as people who stutter, we need to address the learned responses (in the form of unhelpful thoughts, meanings and beliefs), in order to create a sustained relief from stuttering.
This piece is actually an inspirational keynote speech John C. Harrison delivered in 2002 at the Annual Meeting of the British Stammering Association. In it, John talks about his perspective of stuttering as a system and introduces his famous Stuttering Hexagon model, which consists of components including the following working in an interactive way: emotions, behaviours, perceptions, beliefs, intentions and physiological responses. He also talks about many other things such as when he started stuttering and how his stuttering impacted him as a child. He explains how factors such as being highly sensitive, being a perfectionist and wanting to please others and conforming to other’s expectations, contributed to his own stuttering.
What really stood out for me is what John comments about in relation to his own recovery, and what he identified was that stuttering is a problem with the experience of speaking with others. It isn’t a problem with the way speech is produced. Another key takeaway for me is when John talks about the importance of learning to observe, so that a person who stutters can watch oneself and ask questions about why he/she is stuttering in any particular situation and what could be the underlying beliefs, which contributes to what John calls as ‘blocking’. John also shares some wonderful tips for people who stutter, which among others include starting to read and becoming knowledgeable about being a human, journaling, and interacting with other people over the Internet and learning from their experiences.
Underlying the NLP model is what is known as patterns. Each pattern is made of a set of steps, which enable people to do various things like overcome phobias, destroy excuses that hold a person back, remove negative memories and create empowering states to help deal with stuttering. The Swish Pattern is one of the most famous NLP patterns and it is my favourite. In The Swish Pattern article, Tim Mackesey, Speech Language Pathologist has written a step-by-step adaptation of the Swish Pattern, which makes use of your left and right hand. Go read the steps and start using the Swish today!
In this article I explain two ways in which NLP techniques for stuttering can help you – one through observing negative thoughts, and their structures and two, how these thoughts can be changed into more resourceful ones. In the article, I give an example of how you can change how you feel about a thought about stuttering and how you can replace a stuttering thought with an empowering thought or state (meta-stating as defined by Dr L. Michael Hall and Dr Bobby G. Bodenhamer).
Ruth Mead in this article shares some inspirational ideas of how to look at speech and stuttering. One of Ruth’s key premises around stuttering is the working of two systems in our brains – one is the unconscious brain, which is responsible for spontaneity and effortless actions such as speaking. The other is the part of the brain, which wants to control consciously everything around it. Ruth discovered her belief that she had to control the way she spoke triggered the conscious brain to do what it isn’t intended to do; namely produce speech. She found that by trying to control speech, the spontaneous, involuntary speech was gone. Ruth also describes a wonderful metaphor about a mockingbird, which helped her to relinquish the need to control her speech and contributed to her recovering from stuttering. You can learn more about Ruth’s recovery from stuttering in her book entitled Speech is a River.
This article written by Hazel Percy is a fantastic read. Hazel shares her life story and writes about how stuttering held her back in life; such as through limiting the jobs she went for and remaining quiet during social situations. She also talks about the positive experience she had from joining the McGuire programme, which enabled her for the first time to experience what it was like without stuttering, and allowed her to proceed to greater achievements such as public speaking. However, after the course, Hazel still had unanswered questions about using the technique she had learnt in certain situations. Her quest for solutions led her to finding John Harrison’s book How to Conquer Your Fears of Speaking Before People and learning about his Stuttering Hexagon model, which she could resonate with. This then led Hazel to finding about Neuro-Semantics, learning about the field, seeking therapy in this area, uncovering unconscious beliefs and finding out ways to change what she believed about herself and others. Subsequently, Hazel also attended another McGuire course, which gave her the encouragement to deliberately stutter in front of others; doing so gave Hazel a great sense of empowerment!
Although this article isn’t totally about NLP, it does explain how I got into NLP in my own journey in addressing stuttering, or stammering. I’m including the article in this list, as some of you may not know about my background and might be curious in finding out more. I have to admit, NLP, along with meditation have been central in helping me overcome the fear and anxiety of stuttering.
In this particular article, Tim Mackesey explains how internal states such as being anxious about the anticipation of stuttering can create external behaviours such as the physical behaviour of stuttering, and behaviours associated with the stuttering such as avoidance of eye contact, or blinking. Tim explains that in treatment, by only addressing external behaviours, SLPs helping an adolescent or adult who stutters will notice a plateau in the treatment given, which will then result in relapse. He emphasises the importance of ensuring SLPs help a person who stutters or stammers to tackle any major internal state issues (such as avoidance, or anxiety) as well as the physical aspects of speaking. Tim’s article makes a number of references to children who stutter, and his article offers useful guidance for parents who are seeking to understand their children’s stuttering better, and want to learn how they can help their youngsters.
By Hazel Percy
A couple of months ago, I felt the need to reconsider my priorities, before God, about how I spend my time. I live in the UK and have had a leafletting job for the past year or so now, which, as you can imagine, is physically tiring. For several months last year, I was delivering 2000 leaflets a week, which involved me walking 9-10 hours a week. Around November time, I reduced it to 1000 per week. Plus, once a month I do an additional leafletting job for a friend, which means that during that week, I do even more walking. Also, as some of you know, I stutter and currently use a more demanding than normal way of breathing for speaking called ‘costal breathing’ (as taught by the McGuire Programme – for people who stutter). It helps to keep my diaphragm moving freely, even when there’s fear or anxiety present. Another factor in all of this was that in February, my family and I moved house. And, as I am the main painter/decorator in our family, that was a third physically demanding ‘thing to do’ which I had on my plate. As you can see, I needed some clarity from God about how I should be spending my time and energy. I only have so much in any one day!
About a month ago, as I was going to sleep, I had a ‘dream’. It was no ordinary dream. I felt like I was in a state of being half awake and half asleep. I’ve never been hypnotised, but I imagine it might feel something like that. The ‘dream’ was really vivid and immediately after it, I woke up. It was of a round, glass bowl of thick, yellow liquid (like custard) which was being poured out. And as it was being poured out, God was pouring more into the bowl. It seemed to me that God was saying that He provides what is needed. I was also reminded of a Christian book I’d read several years ago called ‘There is Always Enough’ by Rolland and Heidi Baker. I wasn’t sure what to make of the dream at the time, so I put it to the back of my mind.
As I brought ‘my priorities and how I spend my time’ before God a few weeks ago, I believe He said to me to focus on the ‘being’…………………and He would work out the doing’. Meaning, that I needed to focus on my relationship with Him, and to’ be’ as far as I was currently able, the confident and ‘real me’ in everyday life; something which has often been hidden away over many years. And He would tell me what He wanted me to ‘do’. I was reminded of the story of the Centurion’s Servant in Luke 7:1-10. Like the servant who always obeyed what the centurion asked him to do, all I had to do was to be obedient to what God asked me to do – knowing that He would equip me to do whatever that was. But I still wanted more clarity as to the detail!
Following on from this, the ‘need to reconsider my priorities’ became more defined. It became an inner conflict between ‘what I believed I had to do’ and ‘what I wanted to do.’ This simmered away in the back my mind for quite a while, but then came to the boil a couple of weeks ago. What I felt I had to do was my leafletting job, to help provide income for my family. Apart from the physical effort involved, this job involved me spending a lot of time alone, most days (as does the decorating). What I wanted to do and what I also felt I needed to do, was to spend a lot more time each day talking and interacting with people and to regularly push out my comfort zone; two areas which I believe are very important, to move away from stuttering and towards a greater ease of speaking in everyday situations.
I just couldn’t see a way out of this dilemma between ‘having to’ and ‘wanting to’. I felt trapped, as though I was being pulled in two directions in my mind. It was as if I was being forced to have a lifestyle which was going against moving towards the life of freedom, which I believe God wants me to have.
Something else which was playing into all of this, what that in March, I started giving talks to various church groups about how God is helping me to overcome stuttering – something which I believe God asked me to do many months ago. As I’ve been giving these talks, I’ve experienced like never before, how different my life could be, without stuttering. For whenever I give these talks and completely give myself over to God, trusting Him to help me, I have no problem at all speaking, as I share my story with these groups – speaking for 20-30 minutes at a time. In fact I thoroughly enjoy doing them, because at those times, I feel most alive, and am expressing the more confident and ‘real’ version of me. I.e. the person God created me to be.
When things ‘came to the boil’ with this issue, a couple of weeks ago, I sent an e-mail to Bob (Bodenhamer), expressing this inner conflict going on in my mind; as he has been working with me during recent months, to help me move forward with my ‘thinking’ in relation to stuttering. At the time, I didn’t know he was in hospital, and that his own needs were far greater than mine! When I found out about his situation, God gently reminded me that although He often brings other people alongside us, to help and support us at various stages of our lives, sometimes we have to go it alone – and come to a place where it is just ‘us’ and ‘God’. For ultimately, it’s what He says that counts the most. And so I spent some time speaking with and listening to God, using NLP. I needed to know the way forward – and urgently!
Dissociated, I saw an image of adult Hazel in the presence of Jesus, high in my field of vision. She was grey in colour, feeling withered, lifeless, down, head bowed. She was dragging a big net behind her, which contained leaflets, paintbrushes, her children and her husband. As if they were all her responsibility and owned by her.
Jesus said to her: “These are not your responsibility. You do not own them. I have given them to you for a time. They belong to me. You do not have to drag this big net around with you.” Then the Hazel in the image asked Jesus, “What is my responsibility?” Jesus said, “To love me and to show my love to others.”
I asked Jesus how the Hazel in the image could change from being grey to more vibrant and alive. He said to her “Let go of the net. It is not yours to carry”. Then Jesus said to ‘me’ who was looking at the image: “She needs my Holy Spirit flowing through her. It is blocked by all her ‘activity’, her ‘busyness’, her ‘weariness’. My river of life-giving water will supply all her needs. She needs to learn to trust me more. I can do amazing things if only she will let me, instead of holding on to those things she doesn’t need to hold on to. I will provide all her needs and those of her family – in abundance and in ways you don’t expect. I am the God of surprises. Don’t underestimate what I can do. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Nothing is beyond me. Nothing is too difficult for me. I am the God of the impossible. I make the ‘impossible’ possible. I make a way where there is no way. Through the forest – I know the path ahead. Follow me, trust me. I know where I am leading you. Somewhere good and beautiful, where you will flourish and be all that I created you to be. I did not create you to be ‘grey’ but to be vibrant and colourful and alive. Attractive to others so that others can see me through your life.”
I had a sense that I had too limited a view of God’s ability to provide. And that He is bigger than any leafletting job (or, in fact, any of our concerns at all). He is well able to provide in other ways. His ‘bank account’ is far greater than ours! I also had to acknowledge that the self-limiting beliefs I currently hold about what jobs I can and cannot do, due to stuttering, are not necessarily true (though that is still a difficult area for me!) And so I believed it right to reduce the hours of my main leafletting job even further, to only about 2 ½ hours per week (which is virtually nothing), and to trust God to provide for us financially, as a family, in another way. I knew that this was what I needed to do, and had a real sense of both peace and total confidence that God would provide for us in the future.
Several days later, Bob, having come out of hospital, replied to my e-mail. Part of his reply was:
“Let the Lord “surprise” you with what He has for you in the future.”
Now, here’s what happened next. My husband has had a job the other side of London for nearly three years now, which has meant him commuting across the city most days on buses/trains, with the journey taking maybe 1 ½ hours each way (which has increased since we moved house). Then he’s had extra traveling as part of the job itself. It has been such a strain on his health, and consequently on the rest of our family. We have been praying for a transfer so that he can work closer to home, almost since he started that job, and trusting God with it all. But it has been a trial. Well, last week he received an e-mail, saying that he is being re-located to an office much, much closer to home – starting this week! Which will mean a lot less traveling and therefore a lot less travel fares…………… which means significantly more ‘take home’ pay for him, and the rest of our family.
As God said to me, and as Bob indicated………. God is a God of surprises. And He has proved Himself faithful, yet again. As I was obedient to what I believed God was asking me to do, even though, on a human level, it initially looked like a further reduction in income, He made it up to us almost immediately and has provided for us in ‘another’ way. I now believe that that ‘dream’ I had about the bowl, which I mentioned earlier, was indeed from God – reminding me of His provision.
God is far, far greater than our problems. Even when we don’t immediately see answers to our prayers, He is always working in the background, for our good, in His way and in His time. We don’t always get the answers we expect and sometimes our patience is tested…………………. but God knows our every need and is always there ready to speak with us and help us through every stage of our lives.