Tag Archives: Change

Judged Response

One afternoon, whilst speaking to my closest friend Errin Yesilkaya, we wanted to do something. Just something. An exhibition sprung to mind, then I must have stammered shortly after this revelation. There we have it. Judged Response, an exhibition which places explicit focus on stammering, celebrating the differences of those people who stammer, demonstrating these differences and challenges through the medium of art, which has no boundaries, as you are not bound by what you can utter. The visual nature of the artistic medium allows for freedom of expression which people who stammer may struggle with otherwise. This was our idea and vision.

Errin and I brought Shahram Saadat on board as a person who stammers. After many meetings, we decided on our idea and proposed this to Arts SU, the Student Union of University of the Arts London where we all study BA (Hons) Photography at London College of Communication (LCC). We were successful in gaining an exhibition space at LCC, thus then our creation and curation of the exhibition began.

Our motivation for this stammering and art fusion was primarily the fact that stammering has not as such been greatly presented in an artistic context. This exhibition would be an accessible way for anyone, someone who stammers, someone who has knowledge of stammering, or ideally, no knowledge at all of the complexities of stammering to engage with the day-to-day struggle of speech. Ideally, this exhibition would be as public as possible, detached from the white space of the gallery and firmly placed within the public domain for maximum impact and a realisation from the public that stammering is a challenge and not something to be mimicked, laughed at or perceived as a weakness.

Audience and raising awareness was a key reason for us curating an exhibition of this nature. Stammering is something which is talked about, however, while it is talked about, it is not an easy subject to be public about due to the sensitivities of the subject matter, the differing views and effects it has on people who stammer, so any kind of public exposure of stammering has to be carefully, ethically thought through. Art, to some extent, has no limits, it is the artist’s personal perspective, not those of an organisation, so it has the potential to accurately represent (particularly if the artist stammers) the insecurities, strengths, niggles, that stammering brings up.

The three of us each exhibited a work of our own (I was the odd one out, presenting two), all communicating varying themes and aspects of the nature of stammering. Errin’s piece, £137.80, speaks for the way in which our consumerist culture may view people who identify themselves as having a disability are viewed within society. Shahram’s piece, Appropriated Reactions, focuses in on the facial expressions a person who stammers may experience when speaking with someone. My works, Subtitled Liberation and We Judge Because We Don’t Understand, through text in a physical and video sense, provides a liberating, anonymous, fluent opportunity for multiple people who stammer to express their true emotions about the struggle of having a stammer.

The Private View was extremely well attended by people who stammer, friends of those who stammer and people with no connection to stammering at all. Pertinent and important discussions were also held over an exciting, engaging Q&A session with the exhibitors plus Claire Norman, Founder of the Stammerers Through University Campaign (www.stuc-uk.org) and Tim Fell, Chair, British Stammering Association. Overwhelmingly, the most common phrase uttered to me during the night was ‘this is the start of something’ or similarly ‘you’re onto something’. Of which, I agreed with everyone who said this to me. This is the mission I’m on, to show the connection between stammering and art, through a number of mediums, to ultimately affect public opinion.

We are keen, as a collective, to develop a more ambitious exhibition, extending on the ideas raised in Judged Response, perhaps being more interactive and immersive. Watch this space.

 

Rory Sheridan

e) photo@rorysheridan.co.uk
w) www.rorysheridan.co.uk

Me, My Stammer and I

If someone had said to me few years ago that I would one day write a blog about something I am extremely conscious of, I would have laughed out loud! But here I am and this means a big step for me.

As long as I can remember, I have always stammered. I remember when I was about 5 years old and I was struggling to ask for a toy from a boy in a classroom and he said with a puzzled look, why do you talk like this? Up until then I never really noticed my repetition of words, struggling to get the words out etc.. I went home and asked my mum and she said it’s because you are still learning to speak and I believed her for a very long time!

Fast forward many years and I am still “learning to speak”! I was bullied in school for my stammering and my parents had to come for many meetings with the school to talk about it. Having any speech therapy was never an option as my parents believed it would all go away if I gave it time. My family helped me immensely by showing their support and patience, but I grew up thinking stammering was something to hide and not talk about to the world.

Despite being good academically I could never enjoy school, but my good grades and the thrive to achieve more kept me going, I always wanted to act and take part in debates and speeches, but settled for singing instead. This gave me a chance to experience the fluency I dreamt of. I used to envy people who could say what comes in their mind without even thinking about it!

waves Over the years my stammering was like waves with high and low points, but I became very critical and unforgiving of it. I would go over and over my speech and keep telling myself that I was not trying enough to speak properly. Thinking about it now makes me feel sad at how I would be divided into two with one side trying hard to communicate and the other just being negative! I hid my stammering from everyone and would cough, pause or whatever known hideaways to cover my stammer when talking to my friends and family, even at work. I managed to work as a telephone operator in a Call Centre for four years, but the constant efforts to cover up my stammering often made me extremely tired and out of breath.

It was only few years ago that I decided to try speech therapy. That decision did not come instantly as I had often thought of it, but only found enough drive to do something about it then.

The first call I made to find out about NHS speech therapy was very daunting in its own way. I was invited very quickly to the first appointment with a therapist in Chippenham, Wiltshire where I lived at that time. I went to the first session thinking there would be a magic cure waiting for me, but was also very apologetic to the therapist for wasting her time! After a few sessions, it was obvious that we needed to address my psychological approach to stammering before the physical side.

I attended a few sessions there and learned to be as kind, gentle and friendly to myself as I am to others! I know this sounds strange, but I learnt to look at me from a distance and appreciate myself. I started to take each conversation as it happened rather than thinking the whole day was a failure if I had stammered a few times during that day. Just as I was beginning to learn the positive ways to understand my stammer, we had to move from Wiltshire to West Sussex.

This threw me out of my comfort zone and I went back to my old self! It took me many more months to find out about speech therapy in the new area. I was told that there would only be one or two sessions to attend in my area before this service moved to Horsham, West Sussex. Desperate to do something about my attitude and state of mind, I took the chance. To be honest those two or three sessions probably did little to improve anything but they were reassuring enough to make me feel I was on the right track.

Finally, the speech therapist in Horsham helped me to achieve more and explore further. My anxiety was more about causing discomfort to others, but I learnt how that might not be the case and that others are not even bothered by it! We went through the relaxing techniques as well as some breathing exercises to ease the tension around my neck and upper torso, which helped a lot. I had days when the therapy or techniques were helpful, but there were also many days when I felt lost, confused and went back to my usual self-blaming thoughts!

One of my tasks set by my therapist was letting my employer know about my stammering. It happened at the right time as I was going for a job interview for a role I was extremely excited about. I went for the interview thinking there was no way I would get this job after I mentioned my stammering – I guess old habits die hard! But I was a little shocked and somehow disappointed to see that as I mentioned stammering and my therapy, they thanked me for letting them know and just moved on! I was hoping for gasps at least, but not even a slight twinge! That proved even more that my stammering was not as much of a trouble to others as it was for me.

I got that job and am still working there 5 years on. Not even once has anybody mentioned that my stammering has caused them any trouble or has come in the way of my job. My confidence grew with the years and I found a relief in letting people know about my stammering. This also gave me a starting point to focus on learning new skills and making new friends rather than worrying about where I stammered or got lost for words.

As one of the three speech therapists I had once said, “there is no such thing as perfect speech! It’s all about how you get your point across.”  I still have days or moments when I find myself lost for words or feel out of control, but then I take a moment and think that as long as I am able to make the other person understand my point, it’s ok.

I decided to stop taking therapy back in July this year because I felt I had gained enough skills in order for me to find my own way to be a “happy stammerer”. This ability to be ok with stammering is something I never thought I would achieve.

As much as I appreciate all the hard work my NHS speech therapists have put in to help me achieve this state of mind, I feel this was only possible when I decided to take control of my stammering rather than being controlled by it.

Anyone out there who is wondering whether therapy is for them… or perhaps have had therapy, but did not find it much help, I would like to say it’s more like trying a hat… you will have to try a few to find the one that fits! And once you find it, it will not solve all your problems but it will give you enough lift to face life with your head high!


Amna

 

 

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

 

The Day after International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD)

kite-007Disclosing one’s stammer is easy they say… vital I say. In fact it is very much a technique I subscribe to, use frequently and encourage others to try. Imagine going into a stressful situation, an interview for example; walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well, half way through the first question, BLOCK. No sound. Embarrassed interviewers. Red faces, yours and theirs. You get the word out, will I block again? Will I stammer? Oh please get me out of here. It feels like a total failure, even though it probably isn’t. Your mind is going through all the usual worst case scenarios.

Now, try this for size. Walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well. “Before we start I would just like to say, I occasionally stammer. It’s not a problem for me and I trust it won’t be for you.” Now you are in control, you have wowed them, you have a USP. If you do block or stammer, it’s not a surprise, there will be no embarrassment, your stress levels are normal for an interview, and you’re likely to be more fluent as a result.

Early self disclosure works in many situations; with new people, those dreaded round the table introductions at meetings and even presentations and speeches. Whatever the occasion, it puts those of us who stammer in control of our speech, something we crave but may rarely experience.

So why is it then that I, someone who has lots of experience and success using this technique, finds it so difficult to talk about my stammer with my family, friends and colleagues? They already know I stammer, a fact I have never wanted or been able to hide, so self disclosure with them would be something slightly different. I know I would not suffer prejudice or ridicule, these are my friends after all, and rightly or wrongly I do crack a joke about stammering, so they know I am in a comfortable place with my speech.

Is it because I would have to speak more about feelings rather than the mechanics of speech? Is it because I would be revealing a more vulnerable side to my character they may not have seen, wish to see or I may wish to reveal? Is it because I don’t like talking about me me me? Am I, as usual, over-thinking the whole situation and should I just get on and talk to them about how stammering has and continues to shape me into the person I am?

These are questions I do not yet have answers to, but writing this has motivated me to move my self disclosure onto the next level, more personal, closer to home. I have always been sceptical of ‘awareness days’, there is a risk those not directly affected will be jolted for 1/365th of a year, then move on to the next cause. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support ISAD and the freedom it gives stammerers to speak out, often for the first time, and long may it continue. As with every British Stammering Association Conference I have attended, we must, must ride the wave of positivity and ‘can do’ generated and continue the work started on that day or weekend.

For me, that means talking to my friends, workmates and anyone else who knows me (sounds like I am on the radio!) about stammering, educating them and doing my bit towards a society that accepts dis-fluency and not expects fluency.

When I was a child I used to enjoy spending time on the beach flying kites; brightly coloured, bold symbols of fun and freedom, only just under control but high in the sky for all around to see. I will be flying the kite for stammering from now on, when will you be flying yours?

paul-roberts-photo

 

Paul Roberts

Finding meaning in therapy

As a speech and language therapist and researcher, Mark Ylvisaker inspires my work. Mark was both a speech and language therapist and philosopher, and someone who passionately devoted his life to working with people with brain injury. Back in 2007, he said “in the absence of meaningful engagement in chosen life activities, all interventions ultimately fail”. A phrase like this really resonated with me as a therapist. Therapy needs to be meaningful. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago when a Professor asked me “but what is meaning?” that I started to consider the importance of this term.

In our interactions involving people with brain injury the term “meaningful” is regularly used; meaningful goals, meaningful activities, meaningful roles, meaningful participation and meaningful engagement. But what I found particularly interesting to learn was that philosophers couldn’t agree on the definition of meaning owing to its complex, fluid and multifaceted nature. In fact, philosophers argue that meaning does not surrender itself to a definition. They do agree however, that meaning is comprised of three features: connectedness, coherence, and subjectivity. Connectedness refers to the linking of experiences so that they can be understood and interpreted. Coherence refers to a person making an evaluation of their life or experiences as making sense or being coherent. This is usually done within a bigger context that may include a goal, motivation or life at large. Both connectedness and coherence relate to meaningfulness, as a disconnected and fragmented (incoherent) life is considered meaningless. Subjectivity refers to the subjective experience of connectedness and coherence, as the experiences in a person’s life have no meaning unless they are meaningful to someone.

This started me thinking about how we as therapists create meaning for people with brain injury. Some people may have a notion of what is meaningful to them but need our help to connect and make sense of their experiences. Others have lost meaning in their lives so we need to help them find it again. Meaning can be derived in many ways, from multiple contexts (or sources). An activity or action alone cannot create meaning. It is the emotional response to those activities or actions and the link to a higher purpose, motivation or goal, which is important to the creation of meaning. As a therapist, I’m often left wondering how to do that for people with brain injury. A few years ago, I came across some research by Levasseur and colleagues (2010) who described contexts according to a person’s involvement in an activity (alone through to interaction with others) and the goals of that activity (to satisfy basic needs through to helping others and contributing to society).

Taxonomy

 

 

 

 

 

Proposed taxonomy of social activities

This “taxonomy” made me realise that much of the therapy I was offering was at some of the lower levels (individual or small group activities focused on fulfilling basic needs e.g. buying a coffee, ordering lunch, having a conversation). Little therapy was focused on helping others or contributing to society in interaction with others. That is not to say we should do that, but rather, doing therapy in multiple contexts (or sources), which includes Levels 4-6, may serve to increase opportunities in which a person with brain injury can derive meaning.

The creation of meaning during the therapy process is considered essential for a person with brain injury to engage with the rehabilitation process. People with brain injury just want to take part in something, give something back to others and be someone important, in spite of their injury. If we can help people with brain injury take part in meaningful activities reflective of their desires, they may also report a better quality of life, which some would consider the ultimate goal of therapy. Some ways in which we could achieve this include: individual and group therapy; therapy in real-life contexts chosen by the person with brain injury; video-taping interactions involving people with brain injury and family members, friends and/or significant others; completion of projects designed to help others learn more about brain injury or help brain injury survivors cope with the experience of sustaining a brain injury; setting goals that relate directly to something bigger (e.g. getting a girlfriend, getting a job). These are just some examples of the contexts that may help people with brain injury find meaning in their lives.

Ultimately, I wrote this blog to convey a simple message: how important it is to help a person with brain injury find meaning in their lives. This message attests to Mark’s legacy who was dedicated to making lives for people with brain injury both meaningful and satisfying. Not losing sight of what is meaningful to our patients and clients is what we can do as therapists to take his life’s work forward.

IMG_2900

 

Dr Nicholas Behn
Speech and Language Therapist
City University London

 

 

Inside Culture Club

Dom: ‘Post brain injury life is about staying busy and in touch with the world. To that end one of the things I go to is a group set up by my counsellor Cathy that we tentatively call ‘Culture Club’. No, we don’t sit around and discuss Boy George! Once every two months a group of about 6 brain injury survivors plus Cathy sit in a pub in Teddington and discuss anything we’ve been up to. We’re all at different post brain-injury stages; we’re all different ages and very different people. Lotte is the cinema expert; I tell bad jokes and tell Martin I find modern art questionable. He sighs, I’m sure they all do. Cathy tries to stop me swearing. More sighs. The point is it is something to do rather than just sitting at home which seems to be the all too often fate of the brain injured. We have one thing in common, it’s not much, but it’s enough.’

Angela: ‘Everyone is friendly. I look forward to it a lot. I like the variety of topics. I find it funny and Dom makes me laugh. If I could sum up Culture Club in one word, I would use the word “stimulating”. I find the group as a whole, stimulating. I find it hard to communicate which can be frustrating. It helps when Cathy sits next to me as I feel as if I have a friend. I would recommend the group to other people.’

Toby Art 2016Toby: ‘A group for people with speech issues. Although it is called the culture club, it is basically a group for people to get together and chat. Topics could be theatre, comedy, film, TV…basically anything that is NOT sport or politics!
It is a fun and supportive group of people where you will not feel judged. I’m using it to focus on turn taking and concentrating on anything cultural that I might encounter. There is also a marvellous selection of biscuits made available! I do my artwork at:   www.workshop305.com

Martin: ‘Culture Club is a group. I didn’t want to be part of it. I didn’t want to have a stroke – but I did. We all have reservations and might be cautious about coming to a group like this. But once you are there, it’s friendly, inclusive and accepting. We are all different but have things in common. You can say and share as much or as little as you like. You should dare to join us and take that leap.’

Culture Club takes place every other month on a Tuesday morning. Check out the website for more information: www.intandem.co.uk/pdf/groups/cc2016_2.pdf or contact Cathy: cathy@intandem.co.uk .

 

Positive stammering

positive-language-possible-ableWhen I say to people sometimes that I see my stammering as a positive in my life, they can find it a strange notion. Normally people can only envisage stammering as a negative concept.

My stammering is my natural pattern of speech, and having a stammer does not limit my speech nor hinder my conversations. Communication is so much more than just a speaking voice; it is your body language, facial expressions, your aura. Over the many years in my adult life I have found that being quite open about stammering brings many more conversations and opportunities to make my speech a positive attribute in both my professional and social life.

Quite recently I was thrown back into the position of having to update my CV and prepare for interviews as I had relocated from Northern Ireland and needed to secure a new job.

I have had many discussions with people about how to introduce stammering into my interview conversations. Also dilemmas such as do we tick the disability box? When is the correct time and place to disclose the fact you have a stammer? Can we ask a potential employer for special measures without setting ourselves at a disadvantage?

Our main issue is that in fact we are all different, each person’s stammer is unique in the same way we are all individuals. What affects one person may not affect another, and what seems impossible to one person may be a breeze to another.

For me, I decided that my stammer was something I could be proud of. The experiences that I have had over the last five years I would not have had if I was indeed a fluent person. And so I sat to write my stammer into my CV without actually using the words ‘I stammer’.

This became so much easier when I look at my stammer in a positive way. Showing that through my working relationships my stammer brings strong characteristics is really uplifting. I am able to say that by being very aware of my own speech makes me much more aware and sensitive to other people’s diversities. This makes us much more approachable if others can see that through our own difficulties we are open to accepting theirs.

Through my contacts within the British Stammering Association, going to their conferences, Open Days and getting involved in community groups I can show that I have a good network and that I am actively sourcing and meeting my own needs for back up and support.

For me, stammering has not disabled my life, but has added to it. It has given me more skills that I may not have finely tuned if I had indeed been a fluent person. It has also got me more involved with people from all sorts of places and made me push my own targets forward in terms of doing things for myself and independent travel.

And so, during my interviews I always managed to get my stammer mentioned during a question regarding strengths, talents or interests. Never in a negative way, never in an apologetic way. Mostly it was well received, employers were genuinely interested and it didn’t seem to put any off.

Socially, as I have got older I have cared less about my speech and the amount of fluency I have. My friends and family have become more comfortable with it as I have opened up more. I cannot believe I wasted so many of my younger years afraid to discuss things and be open with people when I was struggling.

My own breakthrough, so to speak, was whilst taking part in some research and being asked to visualise and describe my stammer as a ‘thing’. Something tangible you can see and touch.

For me, this was what turned my stammer into a positive. At that time, I saw my stammer as a weed, like a growing, choking ivy. It could be chopped down, but it was always there, ready to grown again, untamed and relentless. I did not like the thoughts of living with that all my days and so there and then I decided the weed needed to change, something needed to be in its place. And only I could change that. Only I could make that happen.

So I became much more open, stopped trying to ‘fit in’, met more and more people who stammered through the BSA and was soon able to realise that so many people have this dreadful negative feeling towards their stammering. I wanted to change this, I wanted to try to get people to believe in themselves, and that even with a stammer you can be whatever you want.

A_sunflower

For myself, that weed is now a flower, a sunflower, tall and proud, bright and majestic. I had support to get it there, I couldn’t have done it alone. But we must reach out, go out on a limb, take a chance. We will stumble along the way, but the rewards are so much greater than finding we are choked by our own silence.

So for me, stammering has opened doors, albeit you have to be ready to pull that door open wide and walk through it. When you do, you are faced with a whole new world, one where we can all stand like those tall, beautiful flowers and feel the sun on our face.

Mandy Taylor

 

 

 

Stammering: A Million Courageous Conversations

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“Iain, I’m going to be submitting a business case for promotion to manager in June.

I normally stammer on my name which then knocks all my confidence, especially when meeting someone for the first time. Also, my fear of stammering often stops me from contributing to larger groups.

These are going to be increasingly important for me if I’m to be promoted and to be a successful manager.

I’ve never discussed my stammer with anyone at work before but it would be great to talk. Can I book some time in with you soon?”

This email received in January 2015 was a simple but not easy way of inviting me into a conversation about stammering. It led to an authentic, at times emotional and certainly courageous conversation between two people who’d never met before.

For the email’s author, it was the start of a year in which they transformed their working relationship with their stammer and achieved huge personal growth. For myself, it was a privilege to have been invited to play a small part.

These days as Co-Chair of the Employers Stammering Network1 (“ESN”) I’m increasingly hearing about courageous conversations similar to the one I’ve shared above. Perhaps best described as a rising conversational tide across public and private sector organisations, it gives us encouragement that we’re on course to achieve our vision to “Change UK employment culture so everyone who stammers can achieve their full career potential.”

However, what does it really mean to have a courageous conversation in the workplace? 

After all, isn’t courage really about physical bravery such as a sporting success or military engagement? In many ways it is. Yet courage is also about less visible acts.

Poet and author David Whyte explores this interior dynamic as one where:

“To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.” 2

In other words, a conversation in which we offer up our own vulnerability to others is courageous. When we talk for the first time about the pain, shame and stigma of having a stammer we are indeed revealing our vulnerability. The closer to the heart it is the more powerful and productive the conversation can be for everyone.

As Professor Brené Brown, an acknowledged leader in the field of vulnerability and courage, explains:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word is ‘cor’ – the Latin word for heart.

In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ ”3

In many ways the visible and invisible elements of courage mirror what happens to us when we stammer. In other words, what people see and what they can’t see. It is not the exterior physical manifestations of our dysfluent speech, facial contortions or defensive body language that can hurt us most, but the interior turmoil pounding away in our heads, stomachs and hearts.

Perhaps it’s no wonder then that employees with interiorised stammers, whose speech typically sounds fluent on the outside, find it so difficult to reveal their hidden dysfluency and feelings of vulnerability on the inside.

Yet Brené Brown reminds us that there is still true strength to be found here:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.

Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never a weakness.”4

So in practice, how can we successfully apply this vulnerability, truth and courage in conversations at work?

Timing can be everything and in the working world these conversations often happen as we approach points of change, whether it be a new job, a promotion or the opportunity to take on an exciting new role, especially if it requires more public speaking.

When as a senior manager, I was asked to join and lead our audit training team, it was totally unexpected as I’d always avoided instructing on any training programmes! After agonising over the decision, I accepted the role. Had I been more courageous, it could have been the catalyst for a conversation about my stammer. However, the dialogue with my boss amounted merely to his clipped comment that I needed to develop my facilitation and presentation skills, countered by my grudging acknowledgement that he might just possibly be right! It was another two years before we had that courageous conversation about my stammer as he mentored me towards becoming a partner in our firm.

There is no ‘preferred way’ to hold a courageous conversation and there’s an array of courses, multi-step programmes, articles and poetry out there. They range from “straight-talking, take no prisoners” to the “let the spirit take you wherever it will” approaches – it’s whatever works best for you.

Choosing the right conversational partner is choosing the right conversation. Do you want someone who’s going to be open, to whom you can listen and will perhaps be a little courageous themselves? Or someone more focused on listening to you and on being a friendly, receptive ear. Again, there’s no right answer. My own mentor was occasionally open, sometimes uncomfortably challenging and always supportive.

As helpful content and support for these conversations, the ESN website www.stammering.org/esn will soon include a series of case studies featuring employees talking openly about the relationship between their stammer and their work. Whether we stammer or not, much better though to use our own stories, the ones that only we can wholly tell, giving ourselves an open canvas to engage in a truly courageous way.

My invitation to you.

With a UK labour force of over 30 million people5, it’s a long haul journey to achieve the cultural change the ESN is aiming for. However, with over 300,000 UK adults who stammer, our families, friends, therapists and allies in both predictable and surprising places, our home team could very well be a million people strong.

That’s potentially a Million Courageous Conversations!

So my new year invitation to you is to become one of the million people forming our home team and to have at least one Courageous Conversation about stammering this year – a conversation through which, by being a little bit vulnerable, you’ll be amazed by what a difference you can make.

Iain Wilkie

Iain_Wilkie#9509_small

 

Iain Wilkie is a Senior Partner at EY and the Co-Chairman of the Employers Stammering Network (“ESN”).

All views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.

 

 

 

  1. The Employers Stammering Network is operated by the British Stammering Association. For further information please email either Helen Carpenter at hc@stammering.org or Norbert Lieckfeldt at nl@stammering.org.
  1. David Whyte, “Consolations. The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, 2014
  1. Brené Brown, “I Thought it was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame”, 2007, Gotham
  1. Brené Brown, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead”, 2012, Gotham
  1. Office National Statistics, www.ons.gov.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stutter-Affirming Therapy: Removing the Obstacles to Spontaneous Speech

isad_ribbonHow can we help people who stutter come to understand stuttering as something other than the negative opposite of fluency? We can begin by exploring with them the mechanisms of ableism that position those with disabilities as inferior. People do not exist in a vacuum. Discourses that give meaning to our world pre-exist our births. Our experiences and the meaning we make of them are contingent on these discourses. For example, the narratives circulating in our milieu surrounding masculinity, femininity, sexuality, race, and disability will drastically impact the experiences we have and how we make meaning of them. However, it would be overly simplistic to see stuttering as merely a problem of able-bodied oppression. People who stutter come to us with a very real embodied complaint that speech is difficult and effortful. They are not able to say what they want to say when they want to say it. Can we address both the social reality of ableism and also the individual reality of tense, effortful speech without appealing to fluency? Absolutely! Ableism and tense, effortful speech are both obstacles to enjoyable, spontaneous communication. When we focus on removing the obstacles to spontaneity we both work within a framework that does not privilege fluency as more desirable than stuttering and also honor people who stutter’s lived experiences of struggling to speak.

Obstacles

Privileging Fluency

  • Many people take for granted that the preferred outcome of therapy is fluency.
  • Focusing on spontaneity leaves the outcome of therapy open-ended, recognizing that communication is dynamic, sounding different in different situations with different individuals.

Discrimination and Stigma

  • We can encourage people who stutter to see their stuttering as an act of civil disobedience. Each and every time they stutter they are engaged in a political activity. They are refusing to let ableism silence their voices. They are stuttering even though society would rather them speak fluently or not at all.

Coping mechanisms

  • Often coping mechanisms that have been developed to help mitigate the experience of daily stigma and discrimination prevent spontaneous speech because they prohibit open stuttering and attempt to obfuscate it.
  • These can include the addition of starter sounds, silent blocking, hesitant pauses, changing words, tensing of articulators, and avoiding speaking altogether.
  • People who stutter can be encouraged to break up these coping patterns. Together, we can find easy, enjoyable, and pleasurable ways of stuttering.

Stuttering as hardship

  • The experience of stuttering is often presented exclusively in terms of suffering and hardship.
  • Fortunately these problem narratives can never capture the full richness of people who stutter’s lived experiences. They will have plenty of material from which to craft new narratives with new meanings.
  • We can assist people who stutter to uncover moments and memories that contradict these problem narratives by exploring their past experiences for times that stuttering was not unpleasant or worrisome. Maybe there were even times they enjoyed stuttering.
  • Ableist discourses run deep in our society and often people who stutter will need additional support crafting stutter-affirming narratives. We can invite them to roleplay stutter-affirming communication both in the therapy room and outside of it. How would someone who enjoys stuttering act? How would they speak? What would their stuttering sound like? What would it feel like in their mouths?

iStock_000012551980XSmallStutter-Affirming Therapy
By welcoming people who stutter to address the above obstacles to spontaneity we can support them in making new meanings of their experiences. They can come to understand stuttering as a valuable part of their lived experience and not merely the negative opposite of fluency. By affirming the experience of stuttering we open up its meaning to a myriad of possibilities. Its unpredictability can be fun and exciting rather than a source of fear. The movement of lips and tongue can be pleasant rather than frustrating. The sounds of repeated syllables can be desirable rather than embarrassing. We must not restrain these new meanings with any preconceived notions of what success looks, sounds, or feels like. Instead we can help people come to take pleasure in their speech no matter its form, to help them find a stuttering aesthetic of their very own.

Happy stuttering!

Christopher Constantino

Christopher Constantino is a PhD candidate at the University of Memphis and a speech-language pathologist at Shelby County Schools. His research interests include the discursive and material production of disability, the therapeutic process, and the facilitation of agency. Chris enjoys riding his bicycle. Contact him at christopher.d.constantino@gmail.com

Supervision at the fork in the road

image1We all start out with dreams and ideas about how our careers will go. It’s hard to foresee when, where or why the forks in the road will come, but it is almost certain that they will. This blog post explores two key ways in which supervision helped me to negotiate a fork in the path, keep hold of my dreams and step into independent practice.

Seventeen years ago, I embarked on a career in Speech and Language Therapy, with a dream to become a neuro rehab therapist. In the early stages of my career I was fortunate to have some great supervisors (also my managers), who nurtured my enthusiasm for neuro rehab.

In 2008, I took a senior post in a small department without access to clinical supervision within the organisation. I was holding a complex caseload, but for the first time also dealing with wider departmental and organisational issues. I felt the need for external supervision to develop my practice and take care of myself as I entered a more challenging stage of my career.

My line manager continued to oversee my work in post, particularly supporting my CPD, and helping me develop the SLT department. The separation of my clinical supervision to another time and place enabled me to attend to the needs of my clients, as well as my own needs, within this increasingly challenging work context. Through external clinical supervision, I had the freedom to reflect on the needs of my clients more deeply and my own journey more broadly.

Hawkins and Shohet (2007) discuss self-care as an important aspect of clinical supervision. Drawing an analogy between the ‘good enough helping professional ‘ and Donald Winnacott’s concept of the ‘good enough mother’. The ‘good enough mother’ may struggle to cope with the rigours of motherhood without the help and support of another adult, just as the helping professional may struggle to cope without the support of a supervisor. At this point in my career, I was faced daily with the devastating reality of people’s lives following brain injury. I was starting to develop quite strong ideas about addressing these needs with clients but also felt frustrated by the difficulties of achieving gains for my clients. I could easily have been worn down by these frustrations, but with wise and meaningful supervision, these difficult experiences ‘….. were survived, reflected upon and learnt from’ (Hawkins and Shohet, 2007). Through supervision, I became much more conscious of my concern to address my client’s ability to participate in their chosen life roles and started to think about how I could facilitate this for them.

It was at this time that my own personal circumstances changed. With a young family I was keen to be as present at home as much as possible without completely losing connection with my profession. I started to explore how to manage this change in my life and find a way to continue working within my chosen specialism.

Cathy and Sam have written about the changing role of supervision which ‘….. has now extended to one that supports and facilitates emotional resilience, opens up possibilities where there seem to be very few and fosters an individual’s personal/ professional resources to manage change’ (Bulletin, February 2013).

With this changing picture, refined by my professional interest and constrained by my personal circumstances, my supervisor helped me to consider diverse options as I stood at this fork in the road. I don’t remember who initiated the idea of independent practice, but I know that this path seemed daunting, much less travelled and insecure. I didn’t know how to begin walking away from the security of paid employment.

The supervisory relationship was a place of safety that allowed me to: test out ideas, evaluate the pros and cons of working independently, make plans and connections, review early steps and ask silly questions. I saw my first independent client in 2009, nearly six years ago. The transition to independent practice has been necessarily slow as I have been at home with my family, but this has brought with it opportunity to reflect on each small step in supervision and build slowly in confidence. With my supervisor’s support this process has been much smoother and more satisfying than it might have been as early ideas have come to fruition.

Work is not how I envisaged it seventeen years ago, but it does really work for me in the context of my life now. However, I could so easily have missed this path if I had not been able to access great supervision at the fork in the road.

Mary Ganpatsingh
www.communicationchanges.co.uk
@Comm_Changes

References
Supervision in the Helping Professions, 3rd edition (2007), Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R.
Supporting robust supervision practice, Sparkes, C. and Simpson, S. (February, 2013) Bulletin