Control: The solution or the problem?

About the author:  Hazel Percy percyis married and lives with her family in the UK.  She started stuttering around the age of 5 and for many years suffered with a severe and overt stuttering problem, which restricted her life in many ways.  Although she currently works part-time for a local estate agents, her passion is public speaking.  In 2005 she achieved the LAMDA Bronze Award in Public Speaking and is currently a speaker for the Women’s Institute.  She is also an active member of two Toastmasters clubs.  In addition, Hazel regularly gives talks to local community groups about her journey towards overcoming stuttering and actively seeks new opportunities for public speaking.

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.

My background

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
  1. speak fluently?
  2. stutter?
  • 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:

John C Harrison: ‘REDEFINING STUTTERING – What the struggle to speak is really all about’

Tim Mackesey:

Ruth Mead: ‘Speech is a River’:

Neurosemanticsofstuttering e-Yahoo group:

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Control: The solution or the problem? — 66 Comments

  1. Excellent article Hazel. Congratulation for the tremendous progress that you are making with your speech; and, more importantly, how you now view yourself. The The statement, “What we focus on, grows” is so very true, isn’t it?

    Walking in “Truth” is the only way to go. And, a great big congrats on the launching of your blog.


    • Bob – thanks for your encouraging words and for the part you have played in helping me on my journey towards overcoming stuttering.

  2. This was a very interesting and encouraging article, so I appreciate you posting this. I am an aspiring SLP and I am very interested in the idea of “using your brain differently” when trying to overcome stuttering. Could you go into a little more detail of this idea?
    Thank you so much for sharing this article with us,

    • Hello Kayla. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my article. Firstly, I’d like to encourage you to read Barbara Dahm’s short and easy to read e-book, ‘Freeing Your Inner Fluency’ (assuming that you haven’t read it already). It gives an overview of at least some of the differences in how fluent speakers and people who stutter use their brains when producing speech. From my perspective, through close observation of what is going on in my mind when I am speaking, I have come to realise that it’s what I am focussing on that has the biggest impact on whether I am fluent or whether I stutter (if I am not using any physical control technique). If I keep my mind blank when I start speaking, whilst still having some sense of the idea which I want to express, then my speech flows effortlessly. Whereas if I am focussed on what words I am going to say before I say them and if I believe that some sounds will be more troublesome, then my brain goes down the route of ‘trying to control’, what I believe, should be a largely automatic process. Then speaking becomes a more difficult and less enjoyable experience. I hope this clarifies things a little. Please feel free to ask further questions if you wish and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  3. Hi Hazel! I really enjoyed reading your article, thank you for sharing your story. I am a post-baccalaureate student in a communication sciences and disorders program and am currently taking a fluency class. I’m interested in how you are “re-wiring” your brain to process speech differently. This sounds like a mind-over-matter sort of idea. How did you train yourself to keep your mind blank when you start speaking? I feel like if I’m not thinking about what I want to say, I would completely lose my train of thought and stumble over my words!

    • Hi Trisha
      I would say that I am still in the process of training my mind to stay ‘blank’ when speaking. I realise that changing my way of ‘doing speech’ is not an overnight process. It takes time and perseverance – especially when I have been doing it in almost the opposite way for over 40 years! But I believe that in time, I can re-wire my brain to respond differently when in speaking situations. When I refer to keeping my mind blank though, I mean that there is no internal dialogue going on, or any thought about exactly what words I’m going to use before I actually start speaking. My brain develops the language as I am speaking. Neither is there any focus on how I am physically forming the sounds with my mouth, or how I am breathing. I am allowing that side of things to happen automatically. I might start off with an image in my mind (without language) relating to what I want to express, which may change as I develop my ideas as I’m speaking. Sometimes though, it seems like I am in a state of simply having a heightened awareness of my physical surroundings. My focus is completely external and there are no internal thoughts or images in my mind at all. Yet I still have some sense of what I want to express to my listener(s), which seems to be going on at an unconscious level. But as I said earlier, I am still learning how to do this! I hope I’ve answered your question. If not, please get back to me.

  4. Hi Hazel,
    Your story is an inspiration to everyone who stutters. I hope people who read it understand the underlying principle, being proactive. You have been proactive in so many ways: from exploring your options, to choosing to read books that are helpful, to expressing your inner thoughts and feelings on the e-Yahoo group, to joining toastmasters, to being a full participant life and so much more that is evident what you wrote here. I loved the way you wrote this story because it shows that you achieved so much because you are proactive. There are no quick fixes, but there is in everyone an ability to change their mind and their way of speaking. I loved that you even listed some very important questions that can help others to start the process of change.

    • Hi Barbara
      Thanks for your comments. Yes, being proactive is very important and can be great fun too! I am now enjoying doing things which were once only dreams. I believe that all of us, whether we stutter or not, have the potential to move on from where we are, and to live more fulfilling lives.

  5. Hi, Hazel, I am also convinced that language is an instinct rather than something we have to think about and consciously try to produce. “The Language Instinct” by Pinker totally backs up this way of looking at speech. When I was trying to think of every word I said and every breath I took, I stuttered. When I saw that “speech is a river” and don’t try to push the river, I could understand that the mechanics of speech are far too complex to be handled by my conscious mind. The mechanics of speaking is like breathing in its utter complexity. Ruth Mead

    • Hi Ruth. Thanks for your comments. I don’t know for sure but I suspect that the mechanics of speaking are far more complex than breathing, as probably more muscles are involved. Thank you for your continued support and for all you do to help the stuttering community.

  6. Hi Hazel, A beautiful story, but I have difficulties to apply NLP, I find it a bit much for me.

    • Hi Zan
      Thank you for reading my story. I have found that NLP doesn’t have to be complicated. It can simply involve, for example, changing an image which we create in our mind about an upcoming speaking situation, to a more helpful/useful one. Or changing what we say to ourselves (our internal dialogue/self-talk) so that it has a positive rather than a negative influence on how we feel towards, or perceive, our listener(s) or a particular speaking situation.

  7. Hazel,
    This is a great story. It is about the journey, and you are on a great path. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Joe – thanks for your encouraging words and I’m glad you enjoyed reading my story.

  8. Hazel,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I think that it is so important to discuss the impact of physical and psychosocial tools to help control stuttering behavior. Obviously you felt an impact in your own life when you became gradually more able to live a relatively normal life. However, like you mentioned those factors can never fully take away from the deep emotions of frustration or resentment towards your own disfluencies and the fluent speech of others. I admire your self-journey to finding what methods worked the best for you!

    Thank you again!

    Natalie Schulz

    • Natalie
      I appreciate your comments. I am still on the journey and still in the process of discovering more about how my brain works and the things I can do to change how it functions in my everyday life.

  9. Hi Hazel,
    I enjoyed reading your story. I was wondering, when you notice that you are focusing on what you are going to say and visualizing the words what do you do to redirect back to the automatic way of producing speech? Are there any methods that you have found beneficial in redirecting your brain when it comes to producing speech?

    • Hi Cannon
      Thanks for the question. There are two methods which come to mind, which I have found helpful in re-directing my brain. Firstly, if I become aware that I am visualising a sentence in my mind, just before I go to say it, I imagine ‘rubbing it out’, so that I can no longer see it. Then, I do my best to either simply focus externally, on the person I am talking to, or visualise an image of what I am talking about; so that all I am seeing (externally and/or internally) is an image, without any language. The second method is to focus on producing my voice; on sending internal energy to vibrate my vocal folds, rather than focussing on the speech sounds themselves. Hope this helps.

  10. Hi Hazel, thanks for sharing your story. I am a person who stutters and like you, have been very proactive in terms of my communication. I have been in Toastmasters for 9 years, read books on stuttering, participate in an email forum (Stutt-L), am active in several Facebook stuttering groups, and I have written a blog for 6 years (Make Room For The Stuttering) and host and produce a podcast on stuttering (Women Who Stutter: Our Stories) where I have interviewed women who stutter from all over the world.

    I agree that speech is an automatic process that most people take for granted, but I also believe that in those of us who stutter, there is a neurological glitch that causes the stuttering. I have read about neuroplasticity and understand that the brain can be re-trained in some instances, but I don’t understand how stuttering behavior that has been had for 40+ years can be eradicated to become fluent speech.

    I enjoyed the story of your journey but get the feeling that you equate stuttering to “good” and stuttering to “bad,” as you mention that fluency has always been your dream. Do you think that people who stutter can still be good communicators? I am a DTM Toastmaster and think I’m an excellent communicator, even with my stutter. -Pam

    • Hi Pam
      It’s great to hear from you. I have listened to several of your podcasts and have thoroughly enjoyed them. You ask some interesting questions during your interviews, you are a great communicator and I admire you for what you have achieved. And yes, I believe that people who stutter can definitely be good communicators!

      I can understand you believing that stuttering is caused by a neurological glitch. It certainly feels that way doesn’t it? I think that if I hadn’t done so much observing of what goes on in my own mind, both when I stutter and when I am fluent, I would quite likely believe that too. But I notice a definite correlation between what I am thinking about or focussing on and how I am speaking. If I say something on the spur of the moment – without planning or visualising what words I am going to use, then my speech flows effortlessly. If someone then says to me “pardon” – that can trigger me to start thinking about what I have just said – i.e. the words, and then I can start listening to or monitoring how I am speaking. Perhaps you can relate to this? If I don’t use any speech tools or don’t re-focus my mind, then it is likely I will start blocking on almost every syllable, as I am visualising the words and seeing them as obstacles which I have to get out, one after the other. I believe that it’s my ‘trying to speak’ – the control – which is throwing a spanner in the works of a system which is designed to be largely automatic.

      Am I too old to re-wire my brain? I don’t think so. I hold the belief that if Alan Badmington and others can go a long way to overcoming stuttering, then so can I’. This is what gives me hope.

      Do I believe that stuttering is bad? No, it is not bad. I quite often do voluntary stuttering in all sorts of situations, including when I give talks, and it doesn’t bother me at all. I sometimes even explain what it is, why I use it and give a demonstration. I will readily talk about stuttering with anyone and I no longer feel embarrassed about doing that. I do believe though, that stuttering can restrict a person’s life quite considerably, if it is severe. This is the situation I was in for about two decades, and this is partly what motivates me to change. Until fairly recently, I believed that I had only two options when it comes to speaking: To stutter severely and overtly, to the point of emotional and physical exhaustion, and live within the limitations which that brings. Or to use psychological tools and a physical technique to control the stuttering, which again, is exhausting. However, I now believe there is another way. It requires perseverance, practice, patience and quite likely a lot of time, but I believe that it is possible to change the way I use my brain when speaking. I am not after ‘fluency’ – but I am after a way to more easily access my own innate ability to speak effortlessly, and to use my brain for speaking in the way it was designed.

      I am curious; did you consider any of the questions at the end of my story? If so, I would be interested to learn what you discovered.

      • Hi Hazel – thanks for the thoughtful reply and answers to my questions. And thanks also for mentioning that you have listened to some of my podcasts and that you think I’m a good communicator. I appreciate your feedback. 🙂 Sometimes I feel like people know far more about me and my stuttering than I do of them, and then I remember that I broadcast myself stuttering quite a lot! You asked if I considered your questions at the end of the article.

        •What are you thinking about and focusing on during the times when you
        1.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?

        I don’t think about anything when I am speaking fluently. I just speak. Like you note, speaking is just an automatic process. I do think about the content of what I’d like to say, but don’t think about how I say it.

        When I stutter, I am conscious of it and think several things:
        I worry about how I’m sounding and if someone is going to judge me negatively. I think about the physical reaction I may be having. My chest sometimes gets tight and I can feel my face flush and get warm. I also sometimes think, “gosh, why is this happening right now?” as at work I often think its a really inopportune time.

        I don’t know the purpose of my negative self-talk. When it happens, it just seems to intrude and take over my thoughts.

        When I block, I am often squeezing one eye shut, in an effort to “push” the word or sound out. So, I guess that would be trying to attain some measure of control. I have often, and still do sometimes, feel out of control when blocking. Even if just for a moment, I feel like I’ve fallen off a cliff and no one has even noticed. And this is so conflicted for me, because I have people tell me all the time how confident I appear and even how inspiring I am, but in reality, I sometimes do feel lack of control and anxiety.

        I’m not sure if trying to control, in some way, is interfering with automatic speech. To me, my automatic speech is often stuttered.

        So I guess I’ve discovered, after pondering your questions, that it still bothers me sometimes when I stutter (block particularly) and that I do wish it would just go away sometimes. Other times, I am perfectly OK with my speech.

        Will you by any chance be coming to the World Congress for People Who Stutter, being hosted by the American National Stuttering Association, next July? It’s be nice to meet! And by the way, would you like to be a guest sometime on my podcast? 🙂

        • Hi Pam
          Thanks for taking the time to consider my questions and for your open and honest answers. You’ve done great in identifying some of the thoughts which pass through your mind when you are stuttering. It’s interesting isn’t it, how we can perceive others as judging us, based on how we are talking? We are very good at ‘mind-reading’, yet in reality, we have no idea what other people are thinking. I think it’s often the case that we judge ourselves in a negative way, and project that judgement onto our listeners.

          My belief is that the mental/physical stresses and sensations we experience when blocking, are partly due to our brain’s speech production system malfunctioning (as a result of trying to consciously control our speech), and partly due to our negative emotions/thoughts/beliefs about stuttering e.g. feelings of embarrassment or anxiety.

          I would like to encourage you to look even more closely, when you have opportunity, at what you are ‘seeing’ in your mind, during moments of stuttering. Not thoughts, but images. For example, are you visualising the word you are trying to say before you actually say it? Are you seeing the word you are stuck on as an obstacle, and as something which you need to get out? I am amazed that, although I am almost 50, it was only this year that I became aware of the fact that I was visualising words in my mind as I was speaking; both whilst using my control technique, and whilst stuttering. Before then, I was totally oblivious to it – I was so used to doing it, that it was outside my conscious awareness until I deliberately chose to closely observe what I was ‘seeing’ in my mind. And it was only several months ago that I realised that this behaviour was not what ‘fluent’ people did when speaking – and that it was a form of interference. Like me, you might be surprised at what you discover too!

          No, I won’t be attending the World Congress for People Who Stutter next year. But thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your podcast sometime. That would be fun – perhaps in a few months’ time, when I’m a bit (or hopefully a lot!) further along the road of getting used to speaking automatically. At the moment, I feel like I’m in the thick of it – flitting between using a control technique, and not using one whilst I’m experimenting and learning how to use my brain differently. But yes, it would be good to chat with you and have a go at answering some of your thought provoking questions at some point in the future 🙂

  11. Hi Hazel,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I enjoyed reading about the various techniques that helped you, as well as how your beliefs and views about stuttering changed over the years.

    You mentioned that when you were growing up, using a slow speech technique was the only thing that seemed to help with your stuttering. Did you go to a speech therapist when you were younger, and if so do you remember other techniques that were tried that did or didn’t help with your stuttering? I am in graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist, and I would like to work with children after I graduate. It would be great to get your feedback, specifically regarding what else, if anything worked or didn’t work for you during that difficult time. Also what speaking situations did you find most challenging during your school-age years?

    • Hi Kirsta
      Thanks for comments and questions. In addition to what I mentioned in my story, I had a few sessions of speech therapy in my mid-teens. This was the first therapy I ever had. All I remember about this was being asked to read out loud in unison with the therapist and to focus on joining my words together smoothly. I had no problem at all doing this. However, as the therapist began to fade away her voice as we were reading, I started to stutter. As far as I can recall, there was no mention of how I was feeling, or what I was thinking about or focussing on in my mind when I was stuttering. As the therapy went on, I found my stuttering becoming more severe, as I began to feel more self-conscious about the fact that I didn’t speak like everyone else. So I discontinued it.

      The situations I found most challenging during my school-age years were speaking in front of the class (including answering the register each morning); speaking to teachers and other adults who weren’t in my immediate family; and I was terrified of using the phone, and avoided it whenever possible! Hope this is useful to you and I wish you well in your studies.

  12. Hi Hazel,

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a future SLP do you believe that treatment for a PWS should always start with Dynamic Stuttering Therapy versus learning compensatory strategies? – Courtney

    • Hi Courtney
      Of all the therapies I have tried, Dynamic Stuttering Therapy is the only one which leads to natural, automatic speech. I believe that if a person wants to reach a point of not needing to think about stuttering or controlling stuttering, then this therapy will help them get there. It depends on what an individual wants. All I know is that I wish I had had the opportunity to have this therapy years ago, when I was a teenager. So yes, my personal belief is that Dynamic Stuttering Therapy is a good place to start, rather than learning strategies to control the symptoms of a speech production system which isn’t functioning normally.

  13. Hey Hazel! Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I am a graduate student at Appalachian State University studying Speech Pathology. I appreciate your curiosity with stuttering and the links you took to better understand it. I am curious if you would recommend some of those groups online for others who stutter? Thank you!


    • Hi Amy
      I would definitely recommend the Neurosemanticsofstuttering e-Yahoo group for people wanting to, and motivated enough, to take steps towards overcoming their stuttering. I so appreciate the support, help and encouragement I receive from members of this group.

  14. Hi Hazel, I am a student and I found your paper really interesting. We read a lot about other causes of stuttering, genetic predisposition, anxiety about how the words are going to come out, but I had never really thought about what your brain is doing while you are speaking affecting a stutter. I also really like the idea of giving clients hope that a goal of speaking fluently is possible if that is the most important thing to them. Thank you!

    • Hi Colette
      I’m glad you found my paper interesting. I would just like to clarify that my goal is to use my brain, when producing speech, in the way it is designed, and in the same way as ‘fluent’ people do, rather than aiming at ‘fluency’. This includes giving up, for example, those activities relating to control, such as visualising words, and manually trying to move my mouth to form speech sounds, all of which interfere with my brain’s ability to produce speech in its automatic and effortless way. However, an increase in fluency does happen as a consequence of giving up the control.

  15. Hi Hazel, I’m a student and have just read your article. Thank you for telling us about your experience. What stood out for me was your positive outlook and descriptions of persistence. Throughout I found your self-motivation really admirable and feel that other people who stutter may be out there who don’t feel that anything will work for them, or are too shy to ask for help.
    What would you say to them to inspire them into action?

    • Hi Liz
      What I would say to people who stutter is that if they are able to speak fluently in at least one context – for example, when they are on their own, talking to a baby or pet, or in another speaking situation, then there is, in my opinion, no reason why they cannot train their brain to use the same process for speaking in those situations in which they currently have difficulty. I think the degree of motivation which a person has is linked to the degree of negative impact which their stuttering has on their everyday life.

      What motivates me to keep going and to change, is the fact that speaking is so exhausting – whether that is through using my control technique, or through frequent stuttering. Also the fact that others have gone a long way to overcoming their stuttering – and the fact that I am fluent when speaking on my own. So I would say to people who stutter – if you are motivated enough to change, prepared to put in the work and to be persistent, patient, and relentless in achieving your goal, then it is possible to change the way you think and speak in your everyday life.

  16. Hi Hazel, I really appreciated learning about your story! Your determination is amazing and your ability to recognize what goes on inside your mind. I am in grad school for SLP, and it’s interesting to learn what a PWS thinks about during their speech. I’m glad you have been able to find support and fluent speech! A few questions I do have: How long into your therapy sessions with the Dynamic Stuttering Therapy program did you experience fluency? Was it a quick change or a longer process? Also, when did you become to generalize fluency outside of therapy?

    Thank you again!

    • Hi Kirstin
      Thanks for your comments and questions. Just to say that I am still in the process of changing the way I think/focus/speak – both with Barbara and in outside speaking situations. Having said that, I did experience speaking freely, very early on during therapy sessions. However, as I’m sure you can appreciate, progress is often not a smooth curve upwards – there are ups and downs along the way. But I know that things can only become easier, and that I will get there in the end – with persistence, patience and time!

  17. Hi Hazel! I really enjoyed reading your story and learning about your experiences with different approaches to fluency. I am currently a speech pathology graduate student and taking a fluency class, and from that class have learned that speaking tends to be more physically and mentally demanding for PWS than for fluent speakers. How do you feel the different techniques you’ve used taxed you physically and mentally? Has one been significantly easier than another, or have they been demanding in their own, different, ways?

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Jeanna
      I’m glad you enjoyed reading my story. I have only really ever used two physical control techniques, and both required a significant amount of concentration – at least initially, whilst I was learning how to use them. I think probably the first technique which I used, which involved speaking slowly and smoothly, was less mentally and physically demanding than the second one. But to one degree or another, they both led me to focus too much on either how I was speaking, or how I was breathing; at the cost of not focussing enough on the ideas I wanted to express, the person I was speaking to, or my physical surroundings. There has always been the added mental strain that if I don’t use whatever technique properly, I will go back to severe stuttering. It has been like continually trying to keep my head above the water, so that I don’t drown.

      On a physical level, the breathing technique I have used in recent years, although very effective, has been exhausting, when used 24/7. So yes, using techniques can be both mentally and physically demanding.

      Please also bear in mind though, that stuttering without using any technique can also be mentally and physically exhausting. When we are not using our brain in the normal way to produce speech, that in itself can create mental and physical stress in our mind/body, resulting in symptoms such as shortness of breath, and tension in our head, chest, throat and mouth.

      To me, it seems that the most logical way to reduce the mental and physical stress, is to learn how to use our brain in the way it is meant to be used for producing speech; to focus on the ideas we want to express, not on the words we are using or the mechanics of how we are speaking. To date, this is the only way I have found effective in reducing the mental and physical stress associated with either stuttering or trying to control stuttering.

  18. Hi Hazel,

    thank you for sharing your story. I completely agree with you that trying to control articulation is not the solution. To bank on the automatic control of speech is a much better way.
    I have stuttered since the age of 3 or 4 years. I attended a special kindergarten for children with speech disorders, and after that, a corresponding special school for 8 years, in the 60s and 70s in East Germany. There was regularly given some speech therapy among the normal school lessons. The therapy was not very effective for me. My stuttering persisted – but a good thing was that they didn’t teach us to control speech movements.

    When I left that school, I had no appreciable secondary symptoms. The main advantage of the school was that all teachers were familiar with stuttering and knew how to deal with stuttering children. And I early learned that I was not the only one – there were many peers who had the same problem.
    As a young adult, I had less difficulty in everyday communication, but when speaking to a group or in animated discussions I had to cope with stuttering. Thus, I chose a profession not requiring much talking: I became an artisan, worked alone in my studio in a remote little village where I lived for 17 years. Later, I moved to another village and worked in an outdoor museum. My stuttering did not change during all that time.

    Although I had taken up an artistic profession, I was always interested in natural sciences and philosophy. So I dealt, among others, with the relationship between language and thinking, and particularly with the issue of spontaneous speech. I came to the insight that the automatic control of speech requires to perceive the self-produced words and to keep them in memory for a short time, and from there, it was not far to the idea that this function could be anyway impaired in people who stutter. At least, it was not far for someone who stuttered himself, and who had heard that the cause of stuttering was unknown.

    After the thought had occurred to me that people who stutter may perceive their own speech insufficiently, it was only natural to make a simple experiment: I talked to myself with normal voice and listened to me attentively – just as I would listen to the voice of someone else in order to understand his or her words. The effect was remarkable: I felt clearly that I would never stutter on this condition. At this point, I must mention that I often speak to myself when I am alone, and that stuttering frequently occurred in these situations. It still occurs today if I forget to listen to my voice while speaking because I direct all attention to the content of my thoughts. In the period following, I tested my new-found method when talking to other people. Not only, that stuttering did not occur – additionally, I had the same clear feeling that I could not stutter as long I simply listened to my voice. That was in 2011.

    Later, I wanted to share my experience and became active in the stuttering self-help organization in Germany, and I discovered that there was a traditional self-help treatment approach called the Natural Method, which is taught in weekend seminars, with the main principles: speak in a sonorous voice, listen to your voice. make pauses, but don’t try to control articulation. One of the ‘founding fathers’ of the Natural Method was the pharmacist Oskar Hausdoerfer (1864–1951) who severely stuttered as a young man, and who later worked as a speech therapist. His motto was: sound (when you speak), listen to your sound (to your voice), don’t control mouth movements.

    I think the most important things are to perceive one’s own voice (you can also focus on the vibrations of the vocal folds) and to bank on the automatic control of speech. In doing so, we support the automatic control and protect it against distortion.

    • Hi Torsten
      Thank you for sharing your story and how you too have discovered the importance of automatic articulation. I had not heard of the Natural Method before.

      I too have found that focussing on the sound of my voice (i.e. the vibrations of my vocal folds) to be helpful in drawing my attention away from the language that I am using, to express my ideas. I think that anything which takes our mind off putting in effort, focussing too much on the words and trying to control speech is a good thing! I wish you well on your journey.

  19. Hi Hazel
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Congratulation for the wonderful progress that you are making with your speech. I am much impressed the way you think about yourself now.

    • Thank you Sunjoh. I am not out of the woods yet, but I can definitely see some light ahead!

  20. Hi Hazel,

    Thank you for contributing such a well-written and thought-provoking paper. Having observed your journey (at relatively close range) during the past 10 years (or so), I suspect that I perused it with a little more interest (and personal attachment) than most. 🙂

    The changes you have made to your life during recent times have been truly astounding. You were intent on becoming a public speaker and now you are living that dream.

    Whilst I fully agree that our speech should be automatic, I feel that controlling strategies CAN be useful in allowing us to challenge the status quo. Throughout my life, my stutter was so unpredictable. I never knew how any particular speaking situation would pan out. Uncertainty hovered uncomfortably over my head like the “Sword of Damocles”.

    In 2000, I acquired new physiological tools/techniques that enabled me to overcome speech blocks (principally by addressing my inadequate breathing), while also assisting me to tackle the words/letters/sounds that had always generated an emotional charge.

    I used the techniques/tools to embark upon a more expansive lifestyle – that eliminated avoidance and embraced tasks/roles that I had previously believed lay outside my scope (including public speaking). Without those physiological aids (and control), I KNOW (from past experiences) that I would have given up in the face of setbacks.

    In effect, they served as a springboard for change – providing me with the confidence (and means) to propel myself into uncharted waters and challenge the self-limiting beliefs that had restricted me for so many years. They proved invaluable in facilitating the process of change.

    Success followed success, creating an empowering mindset that enabled me to stop focusing on my speech and, instead, concentrate my efforts on the things I wanted to achieve in life.

    I should stress that I used the physiological techniques/tools for a short period of time (probably only a matter of months). I liken my experience to children learning to ride a bicycle. In the initial stages, they will enlist the aid of stabilizers – but when they have overcome their doubts and fears (and become more proficient), they detach them and ride unaided. That’s precisely what I’ve done. I find it so liberating to speak spontaneously and without any control.

    Hazel, I wish you continued success as you tread even more exciting and unfamiliar paths in the future.

    Kindest regards


    • Hi Alan
      Thank you for your comments and good wishes; also for your valued encouragement, particularly over recent months. I will continue to keep you updated of my progress and speaking adventures!

  21. Hi Hazel,

    Thank you for this very thought provoking article! I am currently in graduate school studying speech-language pathology and I have always been curious about what PWS mean when they say that they know they are going to block on a particular word. How does a PWS know what they will block, prolong, or repeat? Also, how do you know what word (s) to replace them with?



    • Hi Hannah

      I can only speak from my own experience. For me, it has to do with believing that certain sounds or words are more difficult to say than others, based on past experiences. And therefore, believing that more effort (mental and/or physical), is required to say them. This of course is a lie, as when I am producing speech automatically, every sound/word is easy to say and I’m not thinking about what words I’m using – only the ideas that I’m expressing. But if I am not using a physical technique, or focussing my mind differently to allow automatic speech to happen, then these false beliefs come into play. So, for example, if I have had difficulty saying the word ‘bread’ in the past, then my brain will remember that, the next time I go to say that word, and will perceive it as being difficult to say. Therefore, its default way of responding to this anticipated difficulty is to try to control how I say the word, to prevent it from being difficult. However, it’s my belief that it is this ‘trying to control speech’ that actually creates the block/stuttering on that particular word in the first place.

      It is very rare that I substitute a perceived difficult word, for one that I believe will be easier to say, as all sounds/words can be difficult for me, depending on my state of mind. If I did substitute a word though, my word choice would be based on my false belief system that certain sounds/words are easier to say than others. However, I am working towards not thinking about the words/language I am using and to simply focus on the ideas which I want to express.

  22. Hi Hazel,

    I really enjoyed reading your story and found it extremely interesting. I am a graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology, and am currently taking a fluency class. I thought it was particularly interesting that you are able to speak fluently when you’re alone. Do you have a theory as to why this is? I have heard of multiple situations where individuals who stutter are able to speak fluently, like when they are singing, or speaking to an animal (which I noticed that you mentioned.) However, you are the first person I’ve heard of who is able to speak fluently when alone. My immediate thought is that it has to do with being less nervous when alone than when speaking with others, or around other people, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


    • Hi Sarah

      I think it is quite common for PWS to be able to speak fluently when alone, although like you, I do know of people who stutter in this context. When I am speaking alone, I am generally not monitoring or judging how I am talking. If I am simply thinking out loud, the language is being developed automatically in my brain as internal speech, at the same time as I am speaking. If I am reading out loud to myself, although I can see the words in front of me, I generally don’t anticipate having any difficulty and therefore, I don’t feel the urge to try to control how I’m speaking. However, I have noticed that if I start to monitor how I am speaking, even when alone, I can make myself stutter slightly. But when I am on my own, it doesn’t matter how I speak. There is no-one listening, and there is no perceived pressure on me to speak in a certain way, in order to be understood by another person.

      When I am speaking with others, it is a different story. My urge to try to control speech began in early childhood. I think that I probably went through a stage of developmental stuttering, as my brain was developing how to speak. I suspect that at this stage, it was loose repetition of whole syllables or words, without any physical struggle. However, at some point, I believe, attention was drawn to the fact that I was doing this. Somehow, I came to believe that this way of speaking wasn’t normal or acceptable; perhaps through a comment or reaction from someone in authority. I became anxious about how I was speaking and tried to correct it by exercising conscious control over, for example, how I was forming the sounds with my mouth. I also began monitoring how I was speaking. As time went on, I began to feel more self-conscious and anxious about my speech. I tried more and more to speak normally, and this way of processing speech, when in the presence of other people, became my default way of responding in that situation. As time went on, fear and other negative emotions about how I was speaking began to increase and my stuttering became more severe, as I tried even harder to control a process which should largely be automatic. I believed people were judging me as a person based on how I was speaking and I went through a stage of linking my identity as a person with the stuttering behaviour. Fortunately, I no longer think this way. But this way of processing speech has now become a habit when in the presence of other people; a habit which I am in the process of gradually changing, little by little.

      So, for me, feeling nervous has very little impact on the severity of the behaviour. What has the greatest impact is what I am focussing on in my mind, as I am speaking.

  23. Hazel,
    What would life be like for a person who stutters to be able to speak freely? I assume, like every other fluent speaker, fluent speech would likely be taken for granted. One thing that I’m realized is we need to be happy with our life, our situation right now in this moment. I have always tried to control my weight. Sometimes I am “successful” and sometimes I am not. However, even during those successful moments and my weight is down and I am controlling my diet and exercise, I am still not happy with my weight. I could be smaller/thinner or it moves to I could be prettier, more talented, etc. My point is, when that need is met, it no longer is a need and our focus shifts to something else. If a disfluent speaker all of a sudden became fluent, they would likely enjoy the moments free of stuttering, however, their insecurities might change into, I wish I made more money or drove a nicer car. I wish acceptance and even an appreciation for differences existed. I hope that some day disfluencies, and might I include differences in general, are widely accepted by all and everyone. Haha maybe it’s wishful thinking… however I think we are headed in the right direction. I really appreciate your inspirational story. Thank you for sharing your experiences!!

    • Hi Candice
      I’m glad you appreciated my story. You made some interesting comments.

      I think that if I were suddenly given ‘fluency’ tomorrow, and never stuttered again, I would always appreciate having the ability to speak freely and express my thoughts effortlessly, having not had that for so many years. Like I so much appreciate the physical and psychological techniques which I acquired around 15 years ago, which enable me to express myself much more easily than before that time (even though effort is still required). However, if I had never had a speech problem then yes, no doubt I would take speech for granted, like I do with, for example, having good eye sight and hearing.

      Personally speaking, I don’t see stuttering as necessarily being a symptom of feeling insecure. Perhaps some PWS do feel this way, but nowadays, I simply regard stuttering as a brain process which I learned how to do in childhood, and which is currently my default way of ‘doing speech’, when in the presence of another person. It doesn’t, though, reflect how I am as a person inside. So, I don’t think that giving up stuttering would lead me to wanting something else in its place.

      Yes, it would be nice if everyone was patient and respectful when interacting with PWS. I think most people are, who have some understanding of the problem. It is up to each one of us, to increase the public’s awareness of stuttering.

  24. Hello Hazel,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and presenting a well written paper. As an aspiring Speech-Language Pathologist, I would like to learn more about the Dynamic Stuttering Therapy. Also what part of the NLP techniques did not work for you?

    Congratulations on your progress and I wish you further progress down the road.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards,


    • Hello Faiza

      Thank you for your comments and good wishes.

      To learn more about Dynamic Stuttering Therapy, please follow the links below:

      NLP is all about changing your mind/body state e.g. to feel more confident, more relaxed, more at ease, less threatened/fearful etc when speaking with people. For me, changing how I feel does very little (if anything) to change how I speak. I can feel as relaxed and calm as anything and still stutter severely, if I am not using any form of technique. My stuttering is triggered by my consciously trying to control speech, and my interfering with a speech production system which should really be allowed to run automatically. For me, it is my focus that needs to change, not my feelings.

  25. Hazel,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I am a Speech-Language Pathology graduate student in a Fluency class this semester. I was wondering, what advice would you give to professionals who might be working with individuals who stutter?

    • Lindsay

      My advice would be to, first of all, find out what the individual wants to gain from the therapy.

      If he/she wants to learn how to speak in their natural, automatic way and to give up the controls which are currently interfering with that process, then I would suggest that you contact Barbara Dahm for advice, guidance, even training, on how best to help the person. She is the only speech therapist that I know of (though I understand that there are a few others), who helps people in this way.

      Be aware that stuttering is what happens when a person is not using their brain to produce speech in the way it was designed. It is not just a speech problem. It is also a thinking/focussing problem and it is likely that negative emotions, perceptions and beliefs will also need to be worked through and changed. As Barbara and John Harrison believe; it is the whole system, which needs to be addressed; not just the outward behaviour of stuttering.

  26. Hazel,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a graduate student pursuing my M.A. in communicative disorders. In my fluency seminar, my professor stresses the importance of treating each client on an individual basis, and that while a technique may work for some, they are not guaranteed to work for others. Your story is the perfect example of that. I enjoyed reading about your experiences using different techniques and how they impacted your fluency. Your story is a great learning experience for me as a new clinician. I also greatly appreciate the questions to ask oneself you included at the end. I will certainly keep your story and these questions in my references. The insight I’ve gained from reading your story is a valuable tool, which one day I can use to help my clients reexamine their fluency and the processes underlying their stuttering. Thank you again for sharing.

    Kind regards,
    Avalon Scopellite

    • Avalon

      Thank you for your comments. I really do hope that what I have written, can be used to help other people who stutter in the future. This is one of the main reasons why I shared, so openly, about my experiences.

  27. Hi Hazel,

    I found what you wrote to be very interesting. After reading your article as well as a few others, I have found a similar theme that is addressed- confidence. With a boost in confidence, it seems that others have become less concerned with what others think of their stutter and as a result, have potentially more fluent speech. As a PWS, what advise would you give to a speech pathologist who seems to be addressing control of speech over the importance of building confidence?

    • Hi there (sorry I don’t know your name!)

      For me, an increase in confidence mainly came as a result of changing the way I spoke (using a physical technique); not the other way around. Although, as I mentioned, there were some situations which I initially found more challenging, even with a technique, where I needed to change negative perceptions and beliefs, in order to further increase my confidence.

      However, I know of some people whose fluency increases as a direct result of changing how they feel. When they feel more at ease, more confident, care less about stuttering in front of people, and have a greater self-esteem, their speaking becomes easier.

      So, to answer your question; I don’t think there is a straightforward answer. It depends on the individual and what is going on in their mind, in those situations where they stutter. What I do believe, is that for a physical technique to work for a person outside of the therapy setting, there needs to be a certain degree of confidence and self-esteem, and of not caring what others might or might not be thinking of them, should they stutter.

  28. Hello Hazel,

    I found your paper extremely interesting and enjoyed reading about your experiences. In your response to Faiza directly above, you said that it’s your focus that needs to change, not your feelings. This comment (along with many others) is helping me better understand the many complexities of stuttering. Learning how to overcome negative feelings about stuttering is an important process, but it isn’t necessarily going to correlate with increased fluency.

    You’ve stated that you are still in the process of changing the way you think, focus, and speak. What you are finding most challenging at this time and how are you working to overcome that challenge?

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Hello Brittany

      Thanks for your comments.

      What I am finding most challenging at the moment is (a) not developing the language in my mind before I start speaking and (b) simply focussing on the ideas.

      I am working on overcoming these challenges by regularly doing speech exercises/activities; both on my own and with Barbara Dahm, which are included in her Dynamic Stuttering Therapy programme. If you wish to know more about what these involve, I suggest that you contact Barbara directly. I feel sure that she would be more than willing to share her knowledge and insights with you.

  29. Hello Mrs. Percy,
    I found your article very inspiring and empowering because your story delves deeper than communication and stuttering. Your story exemplifies willpower and self-determination while you strive to achieve your fluency. I appreciate you avid desire to find a technique that is most appropriate for your personal situation; you did not settle for one that was not the best for you. I admire your willingness to actively place yourself in difficult situations that would typically aggravate the stutter. From your article, I learned that the intrinsic motivation such as confidence and self-esteem may have more influence on fluency than a physical compensatory technique. Did you ever find a way to truly let go of your control to effectively “rewire” your brain for fluency? Thank you for your time.

    • Hello Toni

      I am still in the process of ‘rewiring’ my brain. What goes on in my mind when I am fluent, and when I stutter are almost opposites, so changing how I think and focus in everyday situations is likely to be a very gradual process. I do believe though, that it is achievable, given a lot of patience, perseverance and time.

  30. Thanks for sharing this. So important to stay true to yourself. Life is such a process and it always takes longer than we want to realize these truths. Congratulations. All the best.

  31. Hi Hazel,

    Thank you for sharing your story! It is interesting to see the pull between naturalness and control. I am a graduate student studying to become a speech-language pathologist and we have talked a lot about this balance in our fluency class. I love that you have been able to let go of the control aspect and focus more on the communication rather than just being fluent. The techniques can be helpful at times, like when you are giving your speeches, but I think it is great that you are learning ways to let your thoughts flow freely!

    Kind Regards,

    Alyssa Kubinski

    • Hi Alyssa

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading my story and thanks for your comments. Yes, it is all about learning how to let my thoughts/ideas flow freely and not focussing on the words which are used to express them. Something which, probably, most ‘fluent’ people take for granted. I wish you well in your studies.

  32. Hi Hazel,
    Thank you for this insightful article. I am a speech language pathology graduate student and I currently have two stuttering clients. How would you recommend I express this to them? They are both in elementary school and one of the biggest tools I’ve used so far is to have them stop and slowdown. How can I facilitate naturalness while also reducing their stutter in a classroom environment?

    • Hi Aileen

      Thank you for your question. However, I don’t really feel qualified to be able to answer this particular one. I believe that working with children who stutter, quite likely needs a somewhat different approach to working with adults. Therefore, I highly recommend that you contact either Barbara Dahm or Tim Mackesey, both of whom have extensive experience of treating children who stutter. I feel sure that both of them will be able to give you some excellent guidelines and advice.