A Model for Resolving Stuttering

Bob Bodenhamer, D.Min.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

If every experience has a structure, then the experience of stuttering has a structure and so does the experience of stuttering resolution.

What is the structure of stuttering?

What is the structure of resolving stuttering?

After having explored this with numerous people, we first developed a profile on stuttering, then having working with numerous people who no longer stutter, we have formulated a model for resolving the processes, framings, beliefs, and skills that create and maintain stuttering. Using the modeling processes in Neuro-Semantics and NLP, we know that by discovering and learning howa person engages and performs a set of actions that creates an experience allows us to intentionally mess it up and/or refine it so as to give new choices and resources. That's the design and purpose of this pattern.

The Structure of Stuttering

Stuttering offers one of the most powerful and profound examples of how human beings can take an idea and in-corporate it so much into the body, into the muscles that it becomes one's "way of being in the world." The idea? At the most simple level "the awareness of non-fluency." This was the discovery of Wendell Johnson, psychologist and general semanticist (1946). He discovered that in Indian (native American) cultures, parents and elders did not punctuate or pay attention to non-fluency and so there were no cases of stuttering. It was only in Anglo-European families and cultures. The only Indians who stuttered were raised by Anglo-European families.

After punctuating and becoming conscious and mindful of non-fluency, then we have to add a semantic frame that makes the awareness unpleasant. We have to add psychological "pain" to it by accessing a negative state of dislike, disgust, fear, anger, shame, guilt, etc. We feel these things about the non-fluency because we given it semantic meanings on the order of "it means I'm inferior, bad, defective, etc." Or we could give it a multitude of others painful meanings: I won't be able to succeed, I'm different, people will think bad of me, less of me, etc.

This describes the primary of most people who stutter. By punctuating experience around the production of speech and people's response to it, they take an on-guard, cautious, and self-conscious position.

Then to solidify the process, we add in another frame that sets this mind-body system into a spin. We invite the person to be conscious of non-fluent speaking, get him or her to keep catching themselves while or just prior to speaking, then their attempt stammers or stutters and being conscious of what this "means," then trying hard to not do it ... to stop themselves from doing it ─ the more they "try" to "stop" themselves the more it loops around and starts a downward spiral. Out of that emerges more fear, anxiety, sense of threat, anticipation of all the loaded semantic meanings, etc. The command negation in the form of "Do not stutter... Do not make a fool of yourself," "Do not..." only makes it worse and adds to the spin.

The next step is practicing this way of thinking and feeling so that through repetition it becomes habitual ... so that the muscles in the mouth, throat, and lungs learn (are conditioned) to knowing how to do this well. The longer it goes on, the more entrenched, habituated, and embodied it becomes. That then adds "proof" and "validation" to all of the initial feared meanings which then turns it into a belief and then a belief-of-a-belief which closes the system off to new input and processing.

That which holds this entire matrix of semantic frames in place and so creates a person's neuro-semantic experience is the belief that non-fluency is bad and unacceptable. Yet it is this very thought and thinking pattern that created the problem and it is this thinking that cannot solve the problem. It is this thinking also that views, looks upon, and considers the solution to stuttering the most unacceptable, asinine, and counter-intuitive thing in the world.

Namely, acceptance of the non-fluency.

That is precisely what the person who stutters does not want to do does not believe in doing and will not do. Everything inside their mind-body system will resist that! Why? Because from the inside of that matrix that would mean giving in, tolerating it, that they are stuck, doomed, hopeless, etc. They start to draw conclusions about things that then become even higher level frames: "Stuttering is inevitable for me; it is permanent; nothing can change this."

And from the perspective of the thinking that created their problem, they are right. So they more they try, the worse it gets.

The Pattern for Resolving Stuttering

The solution?

The solution involves being able to step outside that matrix. Only then can they see and experience a new matrix.

Kissing and embracing the "dragon" of non-fluency is the heart of the solution. But how do we get a person who stutters to kiss the dragon? We use the following patterns as the primary patterns for working with people who stutter to get resolution.

Patterns for Resolving Stuttering:

1) The Drop Down Through Meta-Stating Pattern.

This reverses the meta-stating or framing that created the problem and gives the person a chance to step out of the matrix.

2) Meta-Stating Acceptance, Appreciation, and Awe of Self pattern.

This separates person from behavior so that one steps out of the semantic frame that "how I talk is what I am."

3) The Magic Question

This uses the miracle question of de Shazar to let a person use the "as if" frame in a powerful way.

4) Glorious Fallibility Pattern.

This establishes a Matrix for personal centeredness that allows one to de-energize all of the meanings around "self" and other.

5) Meta-Stating Playfulness

This enables us to playfully stutter and treat it as a skill, gift, and tool. It enables us to take ourselves less serious.

6) The Meta-Model of Language

This model is the model upon which NLP built itself. We challenge the ill-formed frames that drive the stuttering. We tear those "linguistic dragons" apart to see if they will stand the test of linguistic well-formedness.

7) Mind-Lines

This model is based on our book, Mind-Lines: Lines for Changing Minds. Here we take those frames that construct the stuttering and we find "new ways" to think about them. And, in discovering these new ways, we teach the client to "change the meaning" of those frames so that they serve the person without the need for stuttering.

Contrastive Analysis


Resolving Stuttering & Opening the way for Fluent speaking

Painful self-consciousness in the recognition of non-fluency

Painful semantic meanings about self and identity

Fearful anticipation of reactions of others to stuttering

Confusion of self and future of success with stuttering

Playful mindfulness of non-fluency as being about speech and not self.

Semantic meanings of self-esteem for person, self-confidence for behaviors

Non-punctuating of stuttering ... a de-energizing of what it means, being playful

Separation of "self" from current actions & reactions
Stubbornly refusing to let past or present control and predict future success.

The Non-Stuttering Matrix

To stutter and to teach one's body, physiology, and neurology to automatically stutter, a person needs those kinds of frames and some practice with them. Conversely, what frames create and support a non-stuttering pattern? It obviously involves not being self-conscious about speech production, not loading up non-fluency with all of those meanings, and not over-investing one's sense of self and identity into speech production. If that is what we are not doing, what does the person not engage in stuttering thinking, focusing on, feeling, and doing?

1) Focused and engaged in something to the point of absorption.

2) Caring most of all about expressing self or ideas.

3) Excited and passionate about something.

4) Feeling free to be direct, expressive, gesturing, etc.

5) Playful in exploring and discovering.

The stuttering experience involves self-reflexive consciousness to make self, speaking, and what others think front and center. These are the concerns in the foreground of awareness. Yet even people who stutter do not stutter 100% of the time. There are times when they do not stutter. Typically it is when they are engaged and absorbed bout something in a context where they feel safe and comfortable. This allows them to swell up in feelings of confidence, excitement, and playfulness about something else.

The Stuttering Resolution Pattern

After using the numerous specific patterns that we mentioned above, we began exploring what they have in common and how they contributed to the resolution of the old Matrix of Belief Frames that create and sustain the experience of stuttering. From that we have constructed the following pattern.

1) Access and anchor a state of liking.

What do you really like? Is there anything that you really, really like?

As I touch your arm here, I want to set an anchor for this state ... because this is a good and pleasant and powerful state, isn't it? And when I move my hand up your arm like this ... does that give you the sense of increasing the pleasure or decreasing it? When I move my fingers down your arm, do you feel the liking increase or decrease?

This sets up a sliding anchor.

2) Extend and expand the liking state from acceptance to awe.

Now just enjoy that thing which you really enjoy and feel it fully and congruently ... that's right ... because this is a state of pleasure and appreciation, isn't it? Because you do appreciate that, do you not? Good ... just be with that ... and notice what appreciation of a highly desire object feels like...

Turn it Down: And let your mind begin to think about something that you just barely like as we turn it down ... because you don't need to appreciate everything, there are some things to just like ... and some things to just accept ... the traffic, cleaning the toilet ... no need to appreciate that ... just accept it, put up with it. No need to dislike or hate it ... just accept it ... welcome it into your world but you don't need to throw a party. This is just acceptance.

Turn it Up: Good, now lets turn this up to the point of warm and exciting appreciation again ... and think about something else you really appreciate ... There you go ... that's right. And if we turn it up more and more ... notice how the appreciation becomes a sense of awe ... standing in awe of something so big, so wonderful, so majestic like the universe and the heavens on a clear night. It's like being speechless before something so valuable ... that you're beyond words, are you not?

3) Apply to Self and Your Life.

Now as you feel this awe and ultimate value ... I want you to feel this about yourself ... about the wonder and mystery of your mind and your person.... and to build self-esteem ... as you esteem yourself as having worth and value ... unconditionally ... because you are a human being and therefore a somebody.

And now you can easily feel appreciation for your skills and abilities and mind and creativity and your powers to respond to the world ...

And you can feel acceptance about those things in your life that you may not like, that you might hate and fight about ... and now you can just accept ... not condoning, but just welcoming ...

And when you feel self-acceptance like this ... it takes the fight away ... does it not so that you can now feel appreciation even more for yourself ... self-appreciation ... and notice how that changes things ... because you are a somebody.

And as you feel esteem for yourself as a human being and appreciation for your abilities and skills ... there's no need for any judgment against yourself, is there? In fact, every time you are tempted to feel critical of yourself  ─ you can feel this! Can you not? Yes, that's right. Beyond self-criticism ... only accurate self-evaluation so that you can become everything you can become ... you can appreciate moving in that direction, can't you?

4) Access the feeling and experience of stuttering and set sliding anchor.

So keeping all of these feelings in your mind and in your body so that nothing we do from this point forward needs to elicit any negative emotion ... I want you to feel so resourceful and centered ...

And just inside answer this question ... When you think about the last time you stuttered, what were you aware of that might have been the triggering stimulus?

Go back and see, hear, and feel that experience.

As I touch your arm here, I want to set an anchor for the stuttering experience. So as you feel that sense ... whether it is tension, pressure, anxiety, fear, frustration, or whatever emotion you experience... just notice it.

Break state, test anchor.

When I touch you like this ... does this elicit that experience? And when I move up your arm does this feel like you're experiencing more or less? And when I move down your arm, does it feel like you're experiencing more or less?

You now have a sliding anchor indicating more and less.

5) Access the primary frames that hold the stuttering experience.

I want you to think of one of the worst times when you stuttered ... and as you feel that ... just go back and be in that feeling for a moment.... That's right... And nod when you are there.

Now rise up in your mind above that experience ... perhaps even seeing yourself down below you in that experience ... and as you rise up ... I want you to just notice ─ and notice without judgment ... what that person thinks and believes that supports the stuttering ... for example, maybe "I have to speak fluently... to stutter is bad, people will think you are stupid..." That kind of thing.

6) Kiss the dragon.

Now with all of your self-esteem and self-appreciation, I want you to feel this stuttering and notice how the feelings and thoughts of stuttering transform ... as you feel this ... and as you do ... just accept the non-fluency as just talk ... just speech which means nothing more than trying to find your words ...

And as you do ... hear these words and notice how the dragon may roar in the back of your mind ... "I give myself permission to stutter and to enjoy it knowing that I am so much more than my talk and I refuse to let this mean anything about me .... I am a somebody and I have the power of speech and I can and will learn to stop giving so much power and meaning to stuttering...

Now how well does that settle? How many more times do you need to give yourself this kind of permission so that it settles well and changes the internal "logic" that created the stuttering frames?

7) Gather up objections and complaints from the dragon.

So are there any objections from the dragon?

Reframe each one and build into the permission until the permission settles well.

8) Re-access the stuttering experience and Drop Down Through it.

Now let's see if you can get the stuttering feeling back. I want you to feel this (fire the stuttering anchor) ... try to talk ... try really hard to stutter for me (fire the self-esteem and self-appreciation anchors as you say these things) ... come on, is that all you can do?

Good ... there's some ... and I want you to just drop down through that feeling and notice what's below it ... (repeat several times until you get to a void or emptiness)

Now be with that nothingness ... and in just a moment drop down again to see what's below the emptiness ... (do three times)

9) Apply the positive frames to the original stuttering.

Now as you feel x, y, and z about this (stuttering anchor) ... notice how they transform the experience of finding your words.

10) Access highest Intentional executive state.

Now as you rise up in your mind feeling self-appreciation and self-esteem (fire anchors), I want you to notice all of your reasons for resolving stuttering. Why is that important to you? Just inside ... notice why ... this is important. And when you get that fully and completely ─ what does that do for you? What do you get from that? Nod when you know. .. . good. And again, when you get that fully in just the way you want it, what does that do for you? (Continue until you get to the top).

As you now step into that ultimate and highest intention ... and imagine moving through life with that frame of mind ... and speaking in an easy and comfortable way ... is the part of your mind that makes decisions willing to take responsibility for letting this be your way of being in the world?

Note: This article is a "work in progress" and is subject to further revision with new experiences and knowledge from our work in modeling stuttering to fluency.

2002  Bobby G. Bodenhamer and L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. All rights reserved.