|About the author: Karissa Colbrunn, M.S., CF-SLP is a school-based speech-language pathologist in Pocatello, Idaho. She is passionate about merging the values of the stuttering community with the field of speech-language pathology. She considers herself a lifelong learner whose research interests, while based around stuttering, are continuously growing and developing alongside her own personal journey.|
Northwest Center for Fluency Disorder’s Intensive Interprofessional Stuttering Clinic
I gained my first in-depth insight into stuttering during the Northwest Center for Fluency Disorders’ Intensive Interprofessional Stuttering Clinic, run by Dr. Dan Hudock (SLP professor) and Dr. Chat Yates (Counseling professor) at Idaho State University (for more about that experience please see our ISAD presentation from last year: here). We used an acceptance-based framework and worked from a person-first model to look at stuttering in a holistic sense. How does stuttering influence different situations? We looked at stuttering as a part of who they are and all worked together as a team to figure out our values and pushing ourselves to lean into discomfort in pursuit of our dreams. I woke up every day feeling excited and more passionate about what we were doing to help Susannah discover more about her stutter and herself, and I learned so much about myself in the process. I was encouraged to not take the easy way out. Perhaps one of the most important take-aways reflecting on this experience was how stuttering added an extra layer to feelings I had inside but never talked about, like not belonging, feeling different. I had always seen feelings as good and bad and tried to control as many good as I can and push away the bad. I threw out my Masters’ portfolio paper that I spent a semester writing, and started over exploring ways that SLPs can positively influence quality of life with the people we work with who stutter. I attended monthly NSA local chapter meetings and the more I did, the more I wanted to do and learn.
Speech In Real Life (IRL)
Early Summer 2017
I decided through the encouragement of my professor that I needed to continue my work with stuttering for my final externship. He knew of an awesome SLP from NSA named Katie Gore and I knew as soon as I looked at her website that I had to do everything I could to work with her. At her practice, Speech IRL, she makes speech therapy more like life therapy, and has the overarching goal that her work will positively influence “her people’s” lives outside therapy… And it totally does. Despite this feeling of needing to do this work, moving to Chicago seemed entirely unrealistic. How could I go somewhere that I knew no one, had never been before, for an eight-week placement? Through the support of my therapist, boyfriend, family, and friends, I knew this was a part of my journey, and off I went two days after my Masters’ graduation.
The biggest contrast between the IISC and working with Katie was the motivation of the people I worked with. At the IISC, everyone was interested in acceptance and we had a fancy manual to operate from that gave great rationales and outlines of why we were doing what we were doing. With Katie, there is no manual and every session depends on what the person brings in. In a crash-and-burn moment, I worked with someone who said they spend all their time hiding their stuttering, but once he stuttered, felt so much more comfortable and less restricted by his stuttering. When I asked if he had thought about advertising and telling people he stutters, he immediately shut me down with a quick “No! I would never do that” and I really struggled in that moment to figure out where to go from there. Katie was extremely supportive throughout my whole experience and helped me troubleshoot these situations, where I didn’t know how to get to a place where I could talk about things and try activities I wanted to do.
Speech IRL specializes in working with adults who stutter, but we also see other adult clients who fall through the cracks in traditional therapy, working on really interesting cases like executive function coaching, advanced articulation and language therapy, and one of my favorite areas, social skills. The social world is so complex, and I really saw a link between the work we were doing with stuttering. Meeting new people can be scary, but if someone hasn’t faced their stuttering, these can be absolutely terrifying and debilitating. This fear can keep someone from doing things they value.
I was really nervous about going into my first NSA conference in Dallas, Texas. Many of the members of the stuttering community have received awful therapy from SLPs and understandably harbor some resentment toward our profession. I was afraid they would place these negative experiences onto me as a person and question my reasons for being there. One of the first people I met was on my shuttle from the airport and found out that at 50 years old, the first time he had ever left his hometown was for the NSA conference in Atlanta the previous year. He was in a place where he didn’t want stuttering to control his life anymore and it was obvious that NSA empowered him on the road to living his best life.
At the first timer workshop, I met a young guy at his first conference who was really struggling to say his name. After telling him I was an SLP, he lit up and said “I’ve never met an SLP who stutters!” and the feeling I came in with that I, a fluent SLP, shouldn’t be there, because it’s not my place, was intensified and magnified. At my first open mic, I heard a story about a 27 year old who had dreams when she was younger of being in a world where everyone else stutters. I met lawyers, doctors, professors, and SLPs who stutter and gained even more insight as to what our job should be as a professional. Not to push fluency and societies stigmas onto people, but to support the stuttering community and break down these barriers. I attended an amazing research symposium, super applicable clinical workshops, and what stands out most to me was a workshop on fluent allies and what people who stutter want from their support system.
We directly addressed the resistance between SLPs and the stuttering community, and something I took away from it that was that it’s important to open up dialogue about resistance, share our rationales, and it’s okay to push boundaries but not overstep them. Dr. Boyle’s research about stigma shows that good ways to address society’s false expectations and judgments toward stuttering are to protest and educate, but that the best way is to contact and tell personal stories about stuttering. I can’t do that and I see this as a role I can’t fill in the community.
A way I really see my interests and knowledge playing in is through educating not only my friends and people I already know, but other SLPs who haven’t had the experience and training I’ve had on things I’ve learned at this conference. Treating stuttering can be really challenging and is outside the box compared to most things we do in our field, but the time and energy it takes to provide excellent, acceptance-based treatment repays itself tenfold by the results you get compared to a fluency-based treatment.
I feel like my role as a professional is to support and encourage the people I work with and advocate and educate others about stuttering to (hopefully) reduce the amount of jerks they meet on a regular basis. I find that the more people I meet who stutter, the more research I do, the less I feel like I know about stuttering. We are making progress as a field into the neurological differences and functioning that cause stuttered events, but everyone’s experience with their stuttering sheds new light on what it’s like to stutter. There is a general lack of knowledge about stuttering and what bothers me the most is when good people, especially SLPS, don’t know how to interact with someone who stutters so I spend a lot of time talking to people about what stuttering is and how to interact with someone who stutters. Honestly, society hasn’t caught up to the awesome things my friends are doing and it makes me really mad and frustrated with how hard they have to work just to get past the stigma of stuttering.
This conference helped me uncover my true self and be open with my vulnerabilities that I hide every single day and I learned that by sharing these things that I hold so closely to myself with others, I don’t have to be alone in dealing with things that I hide. People are willing to listen and understand if I let them in. I’m devastated to leave Adult Disneyland as I describe the conference, but I’m excited to go into my profession with a refreshed, expanded insight as to what my role is in the stuttering community and collaborate on projects that can improve the world for people who stutter.
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