Support Groups for People Who Stutter (PWS) truly embody the theme of this year’s ISAD conference “People Who Stutter Supporting Each Other”. Being in a support group shows us that we are not alone in our struggle, and that wonderful, life-long friends who share our challenges are there for us to discover them. Irrespective of the techniques we choose to manage our stuttering, whether speech therapy, fluency shaping, Acceptance, CBT, psychotherapy or a combination, the Support Group, on the local, national and international level, is both a necessary and a pleasurable part of our journey towards liberation, self-fulfillment and empowerment.
Being in a Support Group for PWS saved my life. Had I not made the first step in overcoming fear and my shame and joining a support group, I might have continued living in a physical sense, but it would have continued to be a living nightmare, filled with thoughts of suicide and with visits to doctors in an attempt to cure physical ills caused by mental anguish.
In early 2010 I reached a crisis point in my life with respect to stuttering, a point at which I truly had no desire to carry on living. Until that point I had pretty much avoided looking for help specifically to manage my stuttering, as the only path I knew of was some type of speech therapy of fluency shaping, both of which had in the past reinforced in me my sense of failure and my sense of helplessness. It seems that in the depths of crisis I was able, finally, to simply do some Googling in order to find a support group. I found the National Stuttering Association, and read about the annual conference for PWS. The description matched exactly what I was looking for, so I took myself off to the conference, and began a journey of discovery and acceptance that changed my life.
A support group provides a safe environment in which we can discuss stuttering. For many of us, our fear of stuttering prevents us from speaking about that issue that most occupies our conscious and subconscious thoughts. Dealing with our stuttering, managing it and eventually thriving in spite of it, necessitates speaking about it openly and honestly. In a world that still largely does not understand stuttering or the experience of the person who stutters, the safe environment of a support group is a lifeline.
Being in a supportive environment is an opportunity for us to put our feelings and emotions into voice. Expressing and examining our emotions via speaking about them is a vital tool in gaining clarity of what we are thinking and what we want. Sometimes we don’t even know what we want, only that we want to get out of the hell in which we presently find ourselves. Meeting other PWS, speaking with each other, discovering other people’s coping strategies, all combine to help us understand on a conscious, wide-awake level what we want. By seeing that other people are going through the same traumas as we are, we are liberated in that we give ourselves permission to accept that what we are feeling is accepted, it is understood. We are not alone in our suffering.
Support groups for PWS exist on a few levels. There may be local support groups in the communities, such as the chapters that are run in the context of the USA-based National Stuttering Association (NSA). The British Stammering Association, too, has an extensive network of local support groups around Britain, and I am sure the same model exists in many countries around the world.
Then there are conferences for PWS, such as the International Stuttering Association (ISA) World Congress, or the NSA national conference. These conferences are, in effect, support groups on steroids, to copy a popular cliché. For those of you who have not attended such a conference, try to imagine being with hundreds of PWS for a few days of workshops and socializing, all with people who have an immediate understanding of you on a deep, intimate level. It is life-changing, and if you have not yet experienced it you should do so soon.
The support group concept has blossomed on the Internet, too, with numerous blogs, podcasts and Facebook groups dedicated to discussing stuttering and supporting PWS. Yes, even someone’s blog on stuttering has the effect of a support group. When I read someone’s blog, I immediately feel better about myself since I realize, more and more each time, that I am not alone. I gain validation for my emotions and for my actions that I am taking to achieve personal growth. All the blogs I have come across are written by such courageous and eloquent people, who manage to put into words emotions that I have been struggling to express. I am supported, and lifted up by these writings.
A concern for PWS often centers around the questions of what type of therapy is effective and which therapists can be recommended. These questions are certainly valid; each one of us needs to find the therapeutic context most suited for who we are, where we are in our journey and what our goals are. However important the discussion of which therapies are “best”, it is secondary to being in a support group where you can benefit from the knowledge, encouragement and shared experiences of other PWS.
At a certain point in my journey, and after receiving so much support from the various groups, I felt ready to give back and start supporting other PWS. I started a support group in my town, and I think it is of value to the people who attend. I know it is of value to me, as I continue to receive support from everyone in my group.
People Who Stutter Supporting Each Other: It works!
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