Tag Archives: Acceptance

Stammering Pride & Prejudice, City Lit, 3rd Nov 2016

I must admit I arrived with a little apprehension, this was the first time I had attended a public event related to stammering. I was aware that I was wearing two hats, as a person who stammers and a psychologist who has a special interest in working with PWS.

The opening remarks by Mark Malcomson were warm and welcoming, there was a real sense of excitement in the room around exploring this novel and perhaps controversial way of viewing stammering. As a psychologist I’ve tended to think about how a person relates to their stammer and the psychological processes that may or may not help in living well with a stammer. Whilst I have an appreciation that the social world we live in will influence this, I had never fully considered that stammering as a problem can be viewed as a socially-constructed phenomenon and so I really was intrigued to learn more about the social model of stammering.

The first talk was by Prof Michael Boyle who is looking at how one might go about reducing stigma around stuttering. This was an interesting look at the stereotypes around stuttering and how these are reinforced in the media. Michael is clearly doing some great work looking at ways to influence public attitudes to stammering. One of the things presented in his research was how people sometimes associate stammering with anxiety and there was the idea that this is a negative stereotype that should be refuted, with stammering presented as something separate to anxiety. I was interested to find that this evoked an emotional reaction in me. As a psychologist, I was struck by the parallels in how PWS are stigmatised in many similar ways to people with mental health difficulties. We are consistently given messages about how we ‘should’ be… whether it be happy, calm or confident. Anything other than these desirable mind states are ‘wrong’ and need to ‘fixed’ or controlled. Those of us who don’t easily fit this, again whether it be disfluency, anxiety, lack of confidence, I could go on… are given the idea, even as children, that we must change this. This can lead to a sense of shame around  normal human experiences and emotions and presents a narrow and limited view of what it is ‘ok’ to be like. My concern with some of the ideas alluded to in Michael’s talk around anxiety as separate to stammering is that we risk reinforcing negative stereotypes around mental health and potentially invalidating the experience of the many PWS (me included) for whom stammering AND anxiety are intimately interrelated aspects of ourselves. Ultimately PWS will have a diverse range of experiences and personalities, so as a community let’s celebrate this diversity.

Next up was a hard-hitting and thought-provoking talk by Katy Bailey. Katy talked about how negative attitudes toward stammering is akin to a person without legs being denied a wheelchair. How we are constantly given the message that to be different is wrong or bad. She recounted her personal experience to highlight how the way that stammering is approached, even within the world of stammering research and therapy, can reinforce this ‘damaged’ narrative. Internalisation of these narratives leads to an internal struggle to control stammering. For me, Katy hit the nail on the head here! Social and cultural norms will tell us it’s wrong or bad when we don’t fit the mould, when you couple this with our problem-solving brains that tell us we should be able to control our internal experiences in the way we can our external world, we end up with the makings of a lifelong, futile struggle to control what can’t easily be controlled. Moreover, this struggle ultimately comes at the cost of pursuing a rich, and meaningful life. PWS often sacrifice important personal values and goals in an attempt to control or hide this part of themselves. These sacrifices or costs will come in small packages, a latte when you wanted a cappuccino, and really big packages, giving up on the dream of a particular career or vocation. Katy highlighted the role of acceptance or letting go of the struggle as a meaningful way forward for her in living with and coming to find meaning in her stammer. As a therapist who teaches acceptance-based therapies (namely Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT) and someone for whom working to let go of these struggles has been so liberating and empowering, Katy’s talk really resonated with me. Moreover, it highlights the need for more work clinically and research on the potential role for acceptance-based therapies (which are gaining momentum in the world of psychology) in working with PWS. Here the move is away from control and towards willingness to experience uncomfortable feelings, such as stammering, in order to move toward values life goals. This theme of self-acceptance was echoed later in discussions between Chris Constantino, Josh St Pierre and Dori Holte, and in Walter Scott’s talk about how his stammering was approached in school.

The rest of day saw talks by Iain Wilkie on the wonderful work he is doing with the Employers Stammering Network (ESN). Iain talked about how it’s to everyone’s benefit if people who stammer can feel more comfortable and able to be open about their stammer at work. Even more, people who stammer bring particular strengths and value to an organisation.

Other highlights included Sam Simpson and Rachel Everard talking about how speech therapy might inadvertently reinforce unhelpful social norms, and the need for PWS to develop a positive, empowering collective identity to be able to ‘live choicefully’. This echoed the conspiracy of silence Iain referred to earlier in the day. Sam and Rachel’s talks brought up the need to educate SLTs in this complex interplay between social, psychological and physical factors that affect how people live with a stammer.

Some light relief from the hard-hitting stuff was provided by Patrick Campbell, Ian Hickey and Nisar Bostan who entertained us with comedy and poetry. The day ended with a bang with Ian leading a reading from an excerpt from one of King George VI speeches. Anyone in the audience who was, as Ian beautifully put it , ‘lucky enough to stammer’ was invited to join in. Such a moving end to the day and truly put meaning to the idea of pride in stammering.

I’m so grateful I was able to be part of this day, I feel sure that these ideas are the start of something really important in changing and challenging how we conceptualise stammering both for PWS and crucially for the therapists working with them. Sam said it when she said PWS are best placed to challenge the status quo, from the inside AND I know therapists can play such a powerful role in empowering people to find the courage required to do this work. Let’s get to work!

 

Lorraine Maher-Edwards
Email: lorraine_maher@yahoo.co.uk
Twitter: @LorraineEdwar

 

Therapy: admitting defeat or an accomplishment?

It took 18 years of living with my stammer before I finally decided to seek help in the form of stammering therapy with Sam at intandem. 

So, why did it take me so long? 

Well, the answer was because I did not want to admit I had a stammer. By pretending it wasn’t there meant that it somehow wasn’t a problem and that it would just disappear… Of course it did not. If I admitted defeat maybe it would rear its head even more? Was I embarrassed by the idea of having a stammer…? Sure! 

Throughout the years my fluency has gone through high and lows. Approximately a year ago I felt I was really struggling. I had become a lot more conscious of my stammer and was even more keen to hide it. The negative feelings surrounding my stammer had increased, which in turn made me stammer more. I felt like I was on a downward spiral and through all the battling I could see no way out.  april14   So, I ‘admitted defeat’ and sought help. 

A year on, my thoughts and attitudes towards my stammer have changed quite radically. One of the key turning points for me was ‘self advertising’, which involved telling friends, family and others that I stammered. Through Sam I had an opportunity to put this into practice by speaking of my experiences to groups of speech and language therapy students: the first time I would give a speech to an audience who all knew I stammered. The scenario was quite alien and I was not sure how I would respond. 

The experience proved more rewarding than I could have ever imagined! The audience’s knowledge of my speech actually reduced the pressure to try not to stammer. If I felt a stammer coming I was more willing to let it out. Quite quickly and without realising I became more relaxed, a lot more fluent and public speaking actually became enjoyable. 

Now a year into speech therapy I have developed a more realistic view of others’ perceptions of my stammer and also put my own stammer into perspective. Rather than battling to avoid stammering I am now more willing to stammer openly. The end result (one which I was always looking for) has been an improvement in my fluency, however it is the underlying feeling of speaking without fear and being freer to engage in the things that I want that has made the biggest difference. 

So, in hindsight, ‘admitting defeat’ feels more like an accomplishment, and much, much more! 

Kal

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

Accepting my stammer

The last Stammering Open Space in May saw a great exchange of ideas and experiences among the people in the group. Of the many interesting discussions that came up during the session, one in particular resonated with me: the idea that acceptance can be a useful way of dealing with your stammer.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was quick to reject the idea of acceptance when I first began speech therapy. The word felt too passive for me. It implied resignation, while I was determined to fight. As far as I was concerned, throwing punches at my stammer was the best way to get rid of it.

Fortunately, my attitude has changed enormously since then. After many months of mulling over the idea of acceptance, I can now see that it is actually a very active process. It does advocate giving up, but not in the way I initially thought. Acceptance is about moving forward by giving up the struggle against a problem. This may sound like passive resignation, but choosing not to fight requires a lot of effort.

As an amateur violinist, I like to think of ‘giving up the struggle’ in the context of violin-playing. When I was just starting out on the violin, my teacher told me a story of a fellow string player – a cellist – who held his cello bow so loosely that it slipped from his fingers during a concert and flew into the audience. ‘Now that’s how you should hold your bow’, she told me.

intandem blog july 2013

 

 

 

 

I’ve never forgotten this anecdote. It was a turning point for me as a musician. A natural instinct for novice string players is to grab on to the bow as tightly as possible to control its movement. It was a revelation to learn that putting in less physical effort – though completely counterintuitive – actually produces a better sound.

Learning to work with the instrument and not against it was a difficult process and took a lot of practice. But it completely transformed the way I played. Even more surprising was how it freed up my mind (and muscles) to focus on other aspects of my playing.

I am now working towards giving up the struggle against my stammer, and hope that this process will similarly transform the way I feel about myself and the way I speak. It will undoubtedly take some practice, but I know it will be worth the effort. I believe now that accepting – and not fighting – my stammer is the key to coming to terms with it.

I guess you could say that I’ve accepted acceptance.

Cara Steger