Monthly Archives: October 2013

Therapy in Waterstones

Behind most books lies a tangle of anxiety about perception, rejection and word-choice. So the laden shelves of Waterstones in Teddington seemed a perfect backdrop for the local launch of ‘Stammering Therapy from the Inside – New Perspectives on Working with Young People and Adults’. Like publishing, the event pulled together an array of knowledge, experiences and feelings into full public view: therapists, people who stammer, people who don’t stammer. To my left was a man who, like me, knew the authors through therapy. To my right was a father whose son stammers; he had dropped into the shop out of curiosity. Elsewhere in the audience was Norbert Lieckfeldt who for many years has campaigned as head of the British Stammering Association. Speech therapy, whether private or in groups, is so easily hushed away like an embarrassing medical operation. The King’s Speech helped slash the stigma and fuel media interest, but hearing Sam, Carolyn, Rachel and others talk publicly about the evolution of their work seemed to take this one step further – from screens and newspapers into real-life.

Over many years I have been inspired by all three
authors at various stages of therapy. This event was a
reminder that I have struggled to communicate to
others what this therapy has been all about. For all they know I’ve been star-jumping and balancing
marbles on my tongue, like Bertie under Lionel Logue’s instruction. I suspect they are unaware of the
emotional mechanics at play. It was provoking to hear two people talk publicly about their own therapy. As Yahoo’s head of retail, Dan Durling has to (in his own words) ‘talk a lot’. He had at first approached his intandem therapy with frustration, wanting not to ‘talk’ about his stammer but just get a cure. It had taken him some time to realise that his friends and colleagues actually cared much less about his imperfect speech than he did. This was an important step in his journey toward acceptance and modification.

Similarly Cara Steger, an amateur violinist, in a display of ‘therapy in action’, talked of her struggle with the passive-sounding idea of ‘acceptance’. By contrast Cara had been used to a physical struggle in trying to be fluent. She compared her speech to learning the violin. The initial controlling impulse is to grip the bow tightly, but with learning and hard work comes a realisation that a lighter touch produces a better sound from the instrument. That had felt similar to learning to work with, not against, her stammer. It is rare that I hear other people stammer, and ironically I find it difficult when I do. Dan and Cara were largely fluent as they spoke, but where they did stammer I felt initial frustration for them, before focusing on the content of what they were actually saying. I wondered if others went through a similar process, and I reflected this might be how people feel when I speak.

Stammering is complex, uncertain and serially misunderstood. There is much to be gained from opening up a traditionally internalized experience, against our media backdrop of polished fluency and rapid delivery. For communities, schools, employers or whoever else, perhaps poignant local events like this are the way to go.
Walter Scott

Living well with stuttering

To celebrate International Stuttering Awareness Day on Tuesday 22 October 2013, Selena Donaldson, speech and language therapist for The Fluency Network at The University of Auckland hosted an informative breakfast seminar. This seminar featured a pre-recorded question and answer session with Sam Simpson and Rachel Everard, two of the co-authors of ‘Stammering Therapy From the Inside’. This event marked the opening of The Fluency Network at The University of Auckland, New Zealand’s newest service for people who
stammer.

Sam and Rachel introduced the concept of ‘living well with stuttering’. They discussed the idea of therapy supporting living with stuttering in a more comfortable way and deconstructed the common misconception that stuttering is something that has to be ‘fixed’. Sam and Rachel acknowledged that there is a range of approaches to stuttering therapy, and that the therapy process parallels a journey, in which a person may try different things at different points in life. They emphasised the importance of being transparent with clients about the type of approach taken, and the theoretical base behind it. Rachel stated from her own personal experience of stammering that although there are useful fluency shaping techniques available, those techniques can be difficult to apply in practice, unless the person becomes more open and accepting of their stuttering.

During this seminar, Sam and Rachel also spoke of self-disclosure. They emphasised the importance of not viewing stuttering as something that needs to be hidden, and promoted the value of stuttering being acknowledged by family and friends. They also emphasised the speech and language therapists’ role in offering clients a flexible model of therapy to help clients on their journey towards self-acceptance. These were concepts I have recently explored with a client at the University of Auckland Fluency Network Clinic. My client was interested in fluency shaping and the freedom approach to stuttering as well. Self-disclosure proved to be a highly powerful tool for this client, who was initially apprehensive about self-advertising and voluntary stuttering due to his past negative experiences. Having independently decided to self-disclose in a group situation outside of the therapy environment, he reported the experience to have been positive, stating, “the stutter doesn’t define me”.

It was wonderful to hear from Sam and Rachel, across the world, on International Stuttering Awareness Day, and to open the University’s new service with their astute and holistic clinical reflections.

Irene Yap
Master of Speech Language Therapy (Practice), final year student
The University of Auckland