If you are a person who stutters, have you ever dared to imagine what life might be like if you could speak more freely? Perhaps you are someone who believes that such a goal is impossible, so you block out any thought of that ever happening, from your mind. Maybe you have been taught, or have come to your own conclusion, that stuttering is a life-long condition – which must be accepted and either embraced, or always controlled by some form of physical technique to reduce the severity of the behaviour. If you think this way, you are not alone. For many years, I thought like this.
I started stuttering around the age of 5. At first it was mild and infrequent, but it became more severe in my teens. Between the ages of 13 and 34, I frequently stuttered overtly and severely in many speaking situations, including with my close family. I could even stutter talking to my dog! I felt very restricted in many areas of life and often stayed quiet when I had something to say. Trying to speak was simply too much effort. During those years, the only thing I found helpful was to use an extremely slow speech technique, and even then it only worked in some situations. When using it, my speech sounded abnormal and I often felt uncomfortable speaking that way in everyday life. To me, stuttering felt the more comfortable and socially acceptable way of speaking.
The way of control
In my thirties, I attended several communication development courses, where I acquired some very useful physical and psychological tools to help me control my stuttering behaviour. From that time on, I readily went about my everyday life, putting into practice what I had been taught. Gradually, I became more able to live a relatively normal life; at least on the outside. I could often say what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. My speech didn’t sound completely natural and it took considerable physical effort to maintain the control, but I lived with that. However, deep down I was so envious of people who could speak fluently. Speech seemed so easy and effortless to them and that really bothered me; particularly as I could speak that way too when I was alone. But at the time, I knew of no other options, which I believed were worth trying, and so continued along the route of controlling my speech.
Re-assessing my education
That is, until I kept coming across people who could now speak fluently, as for example – people like John Harrison, Ruth Mead and Alan Badmington. In addition, the salesman who knocked on my door one day and who said to me when I stuttered slightly, words to the effect of, “I used to stutter but a psychiatrist sort of person did something to my head and now I talk very fast”. And he was talking very fast – but fluently. He no longer had a stuttering problem and came across as being a very confident young man, who spoke freely and with ease.
Regularly coming across people such as these, began to stir up something inside of me. For years I had believed that stuttering was a life-long problem – yet the evidence was quite clearly pointing in the opposite direction; that it was possible to overcome it. I realised that I needed to re-assess my past education about stuttering and to start questioning what I had believed for so many years. And so I began to learn more and more about the nature of the problem, through interacting with people who had gone a long way towards overcoming their stuttering. If this problem could be overcome without the need to control, then I wanted to know how!
Re-education and co-operation
Several years ago, I read John Harrison’s book ‘REDEFINING STUTTERING – What the struggle to speak is really all about’. As a result, I became interested in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (‘NLP’) and Neuro-Semantics (‘NS’). I joined the neurosemanticsofstuttering e-Yahoo group; a self-help group for people wishing to work towards overcoming stuttering using NLP and/or NS techniques (see ‘References’ below for more information). I was an active member for several months, openly sharing my thoughts and feelings as well as asking numerous questions. I was hungry for answers! During this time, I had several NLP therapy sessions with Tim Mackesey and Bob Bodenhamer respectively; both of whom are Master NLP Practitioners. During the sessions I fully co-operated with them; following their instructions and answering their questions as honestly as I could. Although the therapy didn’t seem to have any direct effect on my ability to speak more fluently, it did help me to separate in my mind, how I saw myself as a person (my ‘identity’) from the stuttering behaviour. Changing the way I viewed myself, helped to raise my self-esteem. This in turn, helped me to feel more at ease in speaking situations, as I now cared less about what my listener(s) might or might not be thinking of me if I stuttered. After several months, I moved on from the e-Yahoo group, yet my search for how to free my natural way of speaking continued.
A challenging time
After several years’ break, I re-joined the e-Yahoo group (last year), coming to the conclusion that if I could speak fluently when on my own, then the answer had to be found somewhere in my mind. I once again became an active member and had further NLP therapy with Bob Bodenhamer. Through this, I was helped to feel more comfortable with expressing the ‘real me’ to people; something which people who stutter can tend to hold back from doing. I also decided to do something very risky. I put my speech control tools to one side and spent several months experimenting with using NLP techniques alone, as a means of helping me to speak more fluently.
On several occasions during this period, I attended my Toastmasters public speaking club. I fulfilled various speaking roles, whilst allowing myself to openly stutter in front of the audience. Although these were difficult times, they were also very useful experiences. I learned more about myself; how I was feeling and the thoughts which were going on in the back of my mind as I was speaking. Throughout this time, I would often report back to the e-Yahoo group, sharing my experiences and acting upon helpful suggestions made by its members. Although it was a very useful time, I came to realise that for me personally, NLP techniques alone were not enough to lead me where I wanted to go; towards more fluent speech. And so once again, I took hold of my speech control tools and started to use them. However, my search for a more natural and effortless way of speaking continued.
What about control?
Around this time, I read Ruth Mead’s book – ‘Speech is a River’, in which she describes her story of recovery from stuttering. As I read it, my eyes were opened to, what I believe is, a major contributory factor to triggering stuttering. That is, consciously trying to control the mechanics of speaking – a process which is designed to be largely automatic, and which does function that way in normally fluent speakers. Through Ruth, I learned about the work of Barbara Dahm; a speech therapist who specialises in stuttering. Barbara runs a programme called Dynamic Stuttering Therapy and has recently published an e-book, ‘Freeing Your Inner Fluency’. She too emphasises the automatic nature of normal speech production and teaches her clients how to use their brain differently, to produce speech in the normal and automatic way.
As I read about Barbara’s approach, I could relate to so much of what she was saying. I realised that many things, which I was in the habit of doing, were actually giving my brain too much to do when processing speech. For example, visualising the words in my head which I was going to say before I actually said them, and monitoring how I was saying each word; things which normally fluent speakers do not do. I also realised that I wasn’t focussing enough on the ideas, which I wanted to express.
In addition, when I closely observed the physical aspect of my stuttering, it became so clear to me how everything I was doing, was an attempt to consciously control how I was speaking, by trying to say the words correctly. And it was this interference, which was largely contributing to producing my stuttering behaviour. I was not letting my brain do what it was designed to do; to produce speech automatically. With this further insight, I knew that my next step forward was to participate in Barbara’s Dynamic Stuttering Therapy programme, over Skype.
Developing my way of communicating
During therapy sessions, I experienced something, which I had not experienced since my teenage years. Something, which I had believed for so long was unattainable, could be achieved. I discovered that I had the ability within myself, to speak fluently and automatically, without the aid of any physical technique whatsoever, for a considerable period of time in front of another person. I found myself being able to both read out loud and enjoy conversation using my normal way of speaking. For me, this was mainly achieved by simply changing what I was focussing on/not focussing on in my mind, whilst speaking. For the first time in my life, I realised deep down, that there was a way for me to move on from being dependent on a physical technique, to more fluency. This gave me a new sense of hope and greater motivation to change.
Around this time, I was giving talks to community groups in my local area about stuttering. I was using a physical technique to help me through these and was really enjoying doing them. I now realised that they could become even more fun! It might not be easy but I believed that in time, I could train my brain to use the normal process of producing speech in everyday life, as I had done during therapy sessions. So, during my most recent community talk, I took another step forward. Although I started off using control, I had enough confidence to let go of it at various times whilst speaking, and to speak in my normal and automatic way. And as I stood there in front of the audience, able to speak so easily and freely, it felt so wonderful! I was finally starting to live my dream.
And so today, I am in the process of reinforcing in my mind, through regular practical exercises, the fluent and automatic way of producing speech. In effect, I am re-wiring my brain to process speech differently, and to respond differently in speaking situations. I believe that gradually, as I build trust in my own natural ability to speak, I will feel less dependent on a physical technique and more confident to allow myself to let go of the control and to speak fluently and automatically.
So, if you are a person who stutters, I would like to encourage you to closely observe your own behaviour and to consider the following questions:
- What are you thinking about and focussing on during the times when you
- speak fluently?
- What is your purpose for doing that?
- What are you physically doing when you block?
- What are you trying to achieve by doing that?
- Is trying to control, in some way, interfering with your automatic process of speaking?
Let us all be continually open to re-assessing our education and to co-operating with and learning from each other. We are all gifts to this world. We have so much to offer and I believe that each one of us has the potential to communicate more easily and automatically in our everyday lives.
Bob Bodenhamer and further information about NLP/NS in relation to stuttering:
Barbara Dahm: http://stutteringonlinetherapy.com/
John C Harrison: ‘REDEFINING STUTTERING – What the struggle to speak is really all about’
Tim Mackesey: http://stuttering-specialist.com/
Ruth Mead: ‘Speech is a River’:
Neurosemanticsofstuttering e-Yahoo group:
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