As people who stutter, how do you assess what methods and techniques will work for you?

I’ve struggled for most of my life trying to filter through different methods and techniques that have been taught to me by speech and language pathologists, or others, some with success, some that were not successful, and some that worked for a while then stopped working.

I’ve also heard it said that you need to pick a technique and stick with it, rather than trying many different options, as dedication to one method can be more successful than trying a technique halfheartedly and not realising the true potential of the technique.

What advice can you give to other people who stutter that will help them find a technique that will works, gives natural sounding speech and can be realistically maintained, while avoiding the minefield of snake oil salesmen?

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As people who stutter, how do you assess what methods and techniques will work for you? — 10 Comments

  1. Bruce, Hi! It is so nice to hear from you, and thank you for reaching out to us. We all have something to say and share, so we appreciate you choosing to share with us.

    You ask a great question. Like you, I learned a lot of different SKILLS. I call them SKILLS because like anything new that we try to learn, it takes practice. If you learn a new sport, instrument, hobby, or anything, practice helps use improve and learn more about that thing we are trying to learn. The first SKILLS I learned were fluency shaping when I was 8 and at that time those did not resonate with me. From there I learned stuttering modification as a college student mixed with some nice counseling from the graduate students who worked with me. However, to be honest, I did not practice any of these things effectively because I was chasing the fluency Gods, hoping that with more knowledge I would find natural sounding speech. The one thing I kept forgetting, and it did not hit me until years later was I was not practicing ANY SKILL I had learned in a purposeful manner.

    When I started to practice mindfulness was when it did hit me that the experience of practice was a part of any learning process and part of how we can improve anything we try. This opened my eyes to things I was not seeing, or was not aware of yet. Slowly over time I have tried the different SKILLS I’ve learned since I was 8 to see what feels comfortable for me. Comfort is what we are after, isn’t it? If we can find joy in communication then I believe we are living the way we wish and saying the word we wish (even if those words are produced with stuttering moments).

    Please write back with your ideas, questions, and perspectives, for this is how we can continue the great conversation you began and learn from each other.

    Thank you again for writing!
    With compassion, kindness, and gratitude,
    Scott

    • Thanks Scott! I first learnt a prolonged speech technique with continuous phonation. It was certainly odd sounding, but I think it was, at the time, the best option they were teaching…still, I didn’t embrace it. I then learned a few other techniques, some were variations on the same general theme but improvements, but still, I didn’t feel they sounded natural so I did really engage with them. What was really lacking for me was a natural sounding solution. It took me sooooo long to come to a conclusion that a technique, in itself, wasn’t going to be a silver bullet and I would have to put a lot of investment in my speech in order to improve.

      But I will say, those techniques I learnt when I was young I still rely on as a fall-back for those times I do have poor fluency. I’m not stutter free, but I feel like I have a range of options to help me out of a difficult speaking situation.

      Do you still put a lot of faith in the fluency shaping techniques you were taught, and have they changed much?

      Is there anything that you were taught that is not specifically a speech technique that helped you a lot? I think there was so much focus in the early days to just ‘fix the stutter’ and not so much on the emotional and mental well-being of the person who stutters, so I’m curious to hear what you might have to offer on this aspect?

      • Bruce,

        HI! You ask a great question about “techniques.” Again, I don’t call any of what I have learned “techniques,” but rather SKILLS because if I want to improve behavior (and our thoughts are behaviors too)then I need to see these actions as a skills I can work on, work with, and work through questions.

        The SKILL I personally practice the most (and this is me and not everyone) is mindfulness skills in the form of a variety of meditations to help my thought behaviors evolve. What I mean is that if I can practice being present with my thoughts, I have the opportunity to potentially modify, alter and choose the thoughts I think are more fitting for me and the person I want to be. For example, I used to focus so much on every word I said and after I spoke (anytime and anywhere) I would create judgmental thoughts like “that was bad,” “my stuttering stinks,” “they think I’m dumb” and so many more. This was the thought process I had from the time I can remember (maybe 8 years old) until my early thirties. Then I started to practice coming face-to-face with those thoughts through mindfulness practice and see that those thoughts were not serving me at all, and they are not in line with my core values of “being kind,”being compassionate,” “being welcoming.” So over time I learned to decrease these unworkable, and unhelpful thoughts.

        By practicing mindfulness activities (and there are many) I am now willing to try other SKILLS I learned growing up like prolonging, easy onsets, pull outs, voluntary stuttering, and more because I have decreased the amount of energy I put into negative thoughts. By focusing on who I am (and want to be) through my values, I can CHOOSE the thoughts I want to move with as I communicate. This has also allowed me to see that there are so many other parts of communication other than fluency. There is volume, pitch, pace, expression of pausing, gestures, eye contact and the planning of an EFFECTIVE message. All things that everyone can work onto be more effective. Fluency is just one piece of the communication puzzle.

        Does that make sense?

        You ask great questions! Keep asking questions!
        With compassion, kindness, and gratitude!
        Scott

  2. Hi Bruce. Thanks for stopping by. For me it was a little bit of both. First finding a technique that fits me, which meant trying different ones, see what fits me and move on from others, and then stick with it. But why settle with one?

    In my keynote speech at the ISA World Congress in Iceland in June 2019 I spoke about a smörgåsbord. http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/ I wish one therapist could offer a range of methods (or redirect), so that each and everyone of us could combine his own “dish”. And not just “regular” therapies, but also yoga, singing, etc. For me it was a combination of speech training (Stutter Free Speech courses courses given by people who stutter) + changing the mindset (Mindfulness + NLP), breathing and relaxation (Mediyoga, Qigong and playing the saxophone) + public speaking (Speaking Circles). To others it might be your local SLP + Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) + singing + Nordic walking. 🙂 Our stutter concists of many parameters, so why shouldn’t treatment consists of many components? And yes, once you found your combination, stick with it and practice it.

    But the main thing is to find that combination that works for YOU. And YOU are the only one who has the answer to what that combination is. So get out there and compose your smörgåsbord. Read about the different dishes (and don’t hesitate to try things you’ve never tried before), compose your plate, taste all, find out which ones you like and don’t like, and go for seconds by chosing the best dishes to you pallet. And enjoy the whole tasting experienc!

    Keep talking, and tasting. 😉
    Happy ISAD!

    Anita

    • Thank you for your advice Anita, very much appreciated!

      I like your idea of a smörgåsbord. You know, it would be really helpful if we could go to a website or resource that described all of these techniques with examples so we can really make a more informed decision before starting treatment, particularly where that treatment costs a fair amount of money, that would be such a helpful resource!

      I also am pleasantly surprised to read about your suggestions as to other combinations with other therapies, not just those focused on speech. I’ve start learning tai chi this year and, after nine months, physically I more balanced and stronger, mentally I’m calmer and more focused.

      Do you think that it’s the activities that are new and challenging that help give us better focus and control, because they are new, or because we’re challenging ourselves mentally in different ways, or something else?

      Thank you so much for your thoughts!

      • So happy to read Tai Chi is so helpful to you. I enjoy QiGong very much, which is kinda close.

        Yes, a list with resources would be great, but also a risk. For some resources might be helpful to one, but hurtful to another. And what is a resource? For some it’s eating crickets or carrying a certain stone… (yup, tried the latter).

        I think activities that are new and challenging can be useful and fun, but those we feel safe and confident with can also be helpful. And again, why not combine these. 😉

        Happy ISAD!

        Anita

  3. Hello Bruce, thanks for reaching out to us!

    People are always surprised how I’ve improved on my speech and confidence without having what I call “Formal Speech & Language Therapy” What I mean by this is that, I have not had one-on-one therapy session before.

    Some six years ago when I sought help for my stammer, there was only one SLT in Ghana interested in stammering. I eventually became friends with her and I received hands on advice from her through our relationship. For techniques & methods, I read some books and I started putting into practice what I learnt. But what I realized was that,it was becoming difficult to be consistent with the techniques I had learnt in everyday speaking(you may be different though).

    I was constantly in search of that technique that will give me the freedom I needed while speaking, and bam!,here it came: “STAMMER CONFIDENTLY WHILE COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY” I learnt to deal with covert stammering because I realized that was my nemesis. My approach was then not towards fluency but towards confidence. And for communicating effectively, I knew I may be a PWS but at the same time,a very good communicator. I joined the Toastmasters club( I’ll recommend this for you if you haven’t joined one yet) to better my public speaking skills and leadership. This has worked for me.

    Bruce,I believe that to assess what methods and techniques work for you, you need to ascertain which of them is giving you the most freedom in speaking without necessarily remembering to consciously apply them in every speaking situation.I wish that what works for me, works perfectly for you too, but unfortunately the capricious nature of stammering doesn’t allow that.

    I hope you find this helpful,please don’t hesitate on further questions.

    Wish you best of luck!

    Elias

    • Thank you Elias! It’s interesting to read about your success. I reached a point in my journey where I felt I would only improve if I push myself into different speaking situations. I’m absolutely certain this doesn’t work for everyone, but it has worked somewhat for me. It was really hard at first but it gets a little easier each time.

      I also find it difficult to apply techniques I have learnt when I need them. While I feel like they are a useful backup, I don’t routinely apply them in daily speaking situations. Maybe there’s a lot of truth from what you say for my situation. I’m not so much fluent, but I am more confident than I was when I was trying to avoid any difficult speaking situation.

      I also joined Toastmasters for a while. I dropped out not because of my stutter, but because I was unable to book speeches. The club had grown too quickly. We had speaking places three months ahead and every slot for speaking was filled. I may join another club in future, it was kind of fun, but not so much if you’re not progressing anywhere.

      Thank you for your thoughtful advice, I will give it all more thought and will look into local Toastmasters clubs.

  4. Hi Bruce

    Thanks for the thought-provoking question.

    A key point here is how one defines success.

    There are a few traps here, which I have learned to avoid. First, success has nothing to do with fluency. Rather, success, for me, is overcoming my fear of speaking, avoiding avoidance behaviours, and speaking when I want to. Second, letting go of the perceived need to be fluent and the perceived need to have “natural sounding speech”. What is natural sounding speech anyway? Both Fluency and natural sounding speech are judgments that actually have no place in our lives. There is no value to fluency, just as there is nothing bad about stuttering. It is our thoughts about stuttering and about what other people think that make us believe that stuttering bad.

    For me, learning the facts about stuttering was a major first step. Stuttering has a neurophysiological source, and so, knowing that, I could really start to let go of guilt that I felt about stuttering, and of the shame that I felt.

    Following on from that, cognitive approaches combined with some aspects of stuttering modification have helped me. The main cognitive aspect is Acceptance: Accepting that it is ok, really ok, to stutter, and knowing that acceptance does not mean resignation. From a foundation of Acceptance I can adjust my thoughts and beliefs, and my behaviours.

    Key to all this, for me, is learning to be in the moment of stuttering. Only in the moment of stuttering can I change what is happening to me (to my speech mechanism) and what I am doing (such as trying to force words out), and thereby release the struggle that I am experiencing with my speech. I will still stutter and will still block. But being able to remain in the moment, I can get move forward in my communications and avoid setting up a struggle.

    Mindfulness is the philosophy that helps me to be in the moment. A key attitude of Mindfulness is non-judgement. So, I learned to not judge my speech, and to not judge my perception of what others think of my speech. To be clear, these are all things I continue to work at, but I do so without trying not to stutter. Most of the time.

    I have tried to be brief; I hope this helps, but please feel free to challenge any points I made and to ask further questions.

    Thanks
    Hanan

  5. Hi Bruce – this is a wonderful question and provides a lot of food for thought. I was first introduced to “techniques” to help me be more fluent when I first entered speech therapy as an adult, in my early 40’s. I had never before had therapy and quite honestly I never really thought of “speech therapy” as an option. For me, because stuttering was never talked about, it never occurred to me that I might want to change the way I spoke, because no one had ever talked to me in a supportive way about what I might have been struggling with.

    I entered speech therapy after having been “outed” or so I thought, at work and after being fired from work because of stuttering and I was trying to recover and pick up the pieces of my life. My first internet search of “stuttering” lead me to a fluency shaping program at a local college 15 minutes from me. I thought surely that would help.

    I was introduced to fluency shaping techniques, all of which seemed so unnatural and clumsy to me. Several student clinicians tried to teach me tools such as full breath, easy onset, prolongation, etc. I never seemed to be able to do them “right” and felt frustrated after just a few weeks. I resisted all efforts to try and make me more fluent, because . . . and this was key to success . . . . that’s not what I really wanted or needed. I was in such a bleak place in life and felt so depressed and misunderstood, that I just assumed that “speech therapy” was designed to help me “fix” my speech.

    I realized what I needed and wanted was to explore my personhood as a stutterer and learn to accept that stuttering was OK and I was OK. I needed counseling and support, not mechanical techniques that I so resisted. So, my “technique” became listening to myself and trusting myself that I knew what was best for me, not someone who didn’t know me well. I needed to be “seen” and “heard” as I never once felt fully seen and heard when I was younger.

    I think the best way to gauge what “techniques or tools” might work for an individual who stutters is to insist that the individual be treated as an individual, for whom techniques may or may not be useful. I think it’s helpful to read and learn about other’s experiences, both successes and “not yets” until you/we find what really resonates and what we actually have a true desire and interest to stick to or with.

    Acceptance, self-love, and belief in self I think are the best tools to help one discover what one needs and wants. Also, being critical and skeptical of things that seem “too good to be true.” I think that’s the best way to avoid the snake oil salespeople – try things for ourself and don’t measure our outcomes based on someone else’s metrics. For me, I failed at “trying to be fluent” but succeeded at “letting Pam be Pam.”

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