Saturday, August 7, 2010

"On Stuttering"

"On Stuttering"

[Or now subtilted "On The King's Speech" , the movie by the same title just won the oscar for "Best Picture" of the year. 

I must admit that I have not seen the movie yet but have listened to interviews about it and so know the story line a bit. King Edward had, it would seem much reason to have "shame" and a dose of humiliation in his life and there for lose his "voice." This voice couch gives him his voice back.
I had now several months ago, well before the release of this movie, written the following about stuttering or in the movie referred to as "stammering."]

I stuttered. I don't anymore. Why? I am not sure how I got over it but now I am quite sure I can explain the mechanism.

I know that since I stopped I have learned a great deal about the emotional life of mankind.

I want to share some thoughts on my personal view as a physician, patient and student of psychology on these maters.

The idea is to be practical and help people stop stuttering.

It may seem in some of what I say that this is not what I am doing. That is that for anyone to improve through this method it will take an understanding of their emotions and therefore it is not "practical." It is not practical to expect people to take the time.

Well, we have to start somewhere and to "break the ice" it is my particular sensitivity that we, for the most part, are dangerously in a mind set that unless it comes in the form of a machine or a pill we are not very interested in it. We are not, that is, very self reflective. That is a lot of us. On the other hand we are the nation that uses "psychotherapy" more than any other country so we are just a complex lot. I want to speak to everyone. So I suppose what I am trying to do is reach and warn those of you reading this that are looking for a solution in a pill or an apparatus or in some kind of new "speech therapy." Please try and look past that kind of external solution. Otherwise I think I will be, as they say, "preaching to the choir."

Otherwise I am not saying at all that this is not at all a genetic or inherited problem. But if it is in myself the fact is I do not stutter anymore.

The fact is stuttering may have various causes and that fact is we do not know how to distinguish among them.

So one might go through various therapies in an orderly fashion. That is try all you can and see what happens. That is an alternative to what I am offering. Or at the same time try this.

It would seem that there is a good chance that any therapy that works in some would partially work in all but of course there are no guarantees.

I can pretty much guarantee you will feel differently about things if you give what I am offering a a try and if so you should feel at least a tad bit better and if so you will probably stutter less. No one can tell me that when they feel "nervous" that they don't stutter more!

Some basic points:

* Human beings speak. Far and away this makes us human.
* I will try and be practical.

* Human beings can be said to "want" things.

* We "want" to get our "message out."

* Something often "impedes" this message.

This sequence of events happens in all of us, all the time everyday many times during the day. When it happens we "feel" something. I have taken to saying that we feel maybe "hurt" and or "confused." There are micro bursts of this and macro bursts. I say we put a buck fifty in the dispenser and nothing comes out. Ok, our "want" or interests has been blocked or impeded. We are flying down the highway and turn the curve and see a bank of red tail lights, again our "interest" is impeded.

Ok I think you see where this is going.

From the first time I caught on to this simple emotional idea that, well, yes my "interest" was an emotional force and when something got in the way I just felt 'blocked" , "impeded" , "hurt" , "confused", "a 'thud'" it soon brought back to me remembrances of times past when I stuttered.

Right now as I write I "feel" those times. This is why I am writing this. Most precisely because I yet again saw a piece on a news magazine about stuttering and felt that I should not yet again put off putting these ideas down on cyber screen.

So I trust the reader might, again, see where I am going. It is but a short step to think that when we speak it is to relate to "other." I do not think that there is anyway that the statement :

"When I speak I have an emotional interest in communication to self or other.", can in anyway be denied.

Since speech is a flow of something it can be blocked, impeded, stopped. That process will have consequences. In this case what we call and describe as stuttering or stutters.

Ok what can cause it? This is what this article is about and what I am suggesting and what will take some work and commitment.

No one knows yet but not much has worked yet except time. Not until now. Again this is why I write. But again the answer is not blatantly on this page. I am saying that in my experience and putting 2 + 2 together this seems to make sense to me. What is "this?" "This" is and investigation of the emotion of "interest>" I know you have never really considered "interest" as an emotion and the consequences of tampering with it. I say stuttering is one of those consequences.

We do have to review and be clear about this inherited and genetic stuff.

Let us say that there is the genetic material in my family for me to get diabetes. Let us say that I get tested and I have the gene for diabetes and you can now get tested for this gene.

Am I going to get diabetes? Not necessarily. There is much you can do to avoid it. You can maintain your weight and there is much evidence that if you take the drug Metformin along with a substantial walking routine you can prevent diabetes.

So let us say there is a stuttering "gene." Ok, we can't do anything about that. Does that mean you are going to stutter? I would say we don't know. I would say some will some won't.

Now what is always brought up in these spots on stuttering? It is the teasing, ridicule and humiliation of the person which inevitable makes the stuttering worse! So I say it is a clue that is right under our noses. Again, I said above that nervousness makes stuttering worse. Why? It is because it impedes our interest. It seems to me there is at least an indirect connection if not a direct connection. Connection to what? A connection to the neuro-emotional system.

Now comes the hard work.

If you are an adult then maybe you would be willing to consider that stuttering might have an "emotional" basis." To be sure many of you have already done this and have been through much therapy. This would just be a new "twist" to the therapy.

I have no problem whatsoever realizing that mine had this emotional basis and I am quite certain that it was probably 100 per cent "emotional." In the last ten years there have only been a few occasions where I only had a glimpse of a feeling that I might falter. I now can speak in public without "the least bit of fear." I attribute all of this to my understating of the emotionality of interest and what happens when it is "blocked." Whatever kind of "therapy" this consists of it is "simply" just a deep understanding of that concept. Yes, it is in the mode of "relaxation" but it is very much a organic relaxation.

I fear to say more would start to, well, block your interest. It would start to give you too much information and confuse you.

You need now, to explore more in dept.

I suggest:

If you can, speak to someone that is familiar with Affect Theory/Psychology that might agree with this essay. That is have them read this essay. They need not have thought of this idea before if they are proficient in Affect Psychology to help you with your problem. That is they should be able to read it and understand immediately the connection.

If you are in the Chicago area maybe we can meet.

There is very little material on Affect Psychology that is readily accessible.

There are two small books:

My book "How To Get Where You Want To Go" .
Which is a general introduction to Affect Psychology (currently out of print soon to be republished).

And "What Babies Say Before They Can Talk" By Paul Hollinger.
This is worth reading as it has a lot of good general material about Affect Psychology and should give anyone some good ideas.

That is about it.

Then you can graduate to Don Nathanson's "Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex and the Birth of the Self",
this is pretty much a major undertaking and of masters level material but a beautiful book.

Ok, none of it is directed at stuttering nor do I think you will find the word "stuttering" in any of the texts. The "help" lies in understanding the theory. In understanding that when "interest" is "blocked' speech will be blocked. Ok, what are the myriad of ways our "interests" our blocked? How do we feel when this happens and how can we improve this situation? If we improve it all the neuro-muscular feedback systems will improve that are impeding our "interest" in talking. Seems reasonable.

I write this because of my own experience and because I know this material helped me and am convinced that there is something to this. I am also convinced we have made so little progress with stuttering because we know so little about this connection to "interest" and its blockage.

The next easiest place to go is my web page

These are "new" ideas in this area but we have to start somewhere. I am trying to pick up the ball. I wish there was some specific literature but there is none.

Hope it might help someone. Let me know.

Recent Post Script:

On the National Public Radio Show "Fresh Air" host Terry Gross had a guest that is an admitted "stammer." David Mitchell an author who talks in very articulate terms about stammering/stuttering without using the words shame or

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Heard on Fresh Air from WHYY

August 5, 2010 - (Soundbite of music)


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest David Mitchell is recently described by Dave Eggers as one of the more fascinating and fearless writers alive. Mitchell is the author of the new historical novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet." ................................

You've written about how as a boy you had a very bad stammer.

Mr. MITCHELL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And there's still I guess elements of that left, but.......................

Mr. MITCHELL: It's my life-long companion.

GROSS: You write something I thought was very funny and very true. You wrote: The willpower myth maintains that a stammerer is analogous to a newly wheelchair-bound character in a heartwarming American film. The doctor says he'll never walk again, but his gritty determination proves them wrong. This myth, you say, cost me angry years of believing that I stammered because I wasn't trying hard enough not to stammer......................

Would you describe what you tried to do during those angry years?..................................

Mr. MITCHELL: What I went through in those years: sort of a state of civil war with myself, really. It took a long, long time to understand that a stammer is more like a kind of a force field, and the more you throw at it, the more it throws back at you. You sort of have to outwit it rather than outfight it. And, in a way, not even outwit it. You sort of - I think of it now as a kind of a companion. It's a part of me. It has a right to exist as I do and I need to sort of come to a working accommodation with it.

A friend who was an alcoholic once said to me that an alcoholic never stops being an alcoholic. He may - but what you have to aspire to be is a teetotal alcoholic. And in the same way a stammerer, I think, certainly in my case, will never not be a stammerer but you have to aspire to becoming a non-stammering stammerer. And this involves certain strategies and techniques that you can sort of encrypt into how you speak so that I'm able to do this interview, for example, which 20 years ago would've be unthinkable. And in the end, these strategies can become so well integrated into who you are and how you speak that they become behavior and speech patterns rather than techniques.

GROSS: So do you find it's better for you to say up front to people yeah, I've got a stammer, so that's the way it's going to be.

Mr. MITCHELL: Oh, much, much more so. Yeah.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MITCHELL: It's a huge weight off your shoulders. Yeah.

GROSS: Was that something you had to hide - try to hide when you were young?

Mr. MITCHELL: Most certainly. All the time. Being a teenager is hard enough at the best of times. But if you're a stammering teenager, then I noticed if it's known and if you're sort of exposed as a stammering teenager then it's really tough. So I spent a lot of energy and a lot of angst and a lot of stress trying to hide it and throughout my 20s as well. But in the long run, it's much, much better for me at least to be upfront about it.

GROSS: It must've been so frustrating because you're Mr. Language. You know, and you're all about...

GROSS: ...language and when you opened you mouth it wouldn't come out smoothly. Yet, I'm sure you were writing even as a teenager and...

Mr. MITCHELL: Frustrating, yes.

GROSS: So people would make fun of you because of your stammer, yet you probably knew so much more about language and were so much more facile with language than the people who were mocking you.

Mr. MITCHELL: In part yes, because of my stammer. This is why I view my stammer now as a companion and not an enemy. ]I might've been a writer without it, but I certainly wouldn't have been this writer. One of the strategies I was referring to, which you meet quite early on in your career as a stammerer, is you autocue sentences ahead of time. You see what words are coming up, and say right now I'd have difficulties with words beginning with S. If I, certainly as a younger person, if I saw an S word was approaching then I would try and reengineer that sentence to avoid needing that S word. And this teaches you how language can be employed many, many different ways to say the same thing.

GROSS: Now you lived for eight years in Japan and taught English there to Japanese students........................................

GROSS: You don't stammer when you're talking to animals?

Mr. MITCHELL: No. No. You see, it's all to do with...

GROSS: Why is that?

Mr. MITCHELL: Oh, I've thought about this a lot. But I think, and you may have some speech therapists listening to this program who could have a different point of view, but it's to do with what you think is going on in the listeners head. If you can have a certain militancy about it, if you can think that, you know, I frankly don't care if I'm about to stammer or not. I don't care if this person thinks I'm weird. I don't care if this person thinks any less of me, then miraculously, kind of the fingers of the stammerer loosen and suddenly, you're more fluent again. Obviously, an animal isn't thinking in these terms. So when you're speaking to an animal you don't stammer.

This is also why it's good to be upfront about it. I f there's no question before you start that, hey I am a stammerer, it's out in the open and I may well stammer in this conversation, if that's there before the conversation starts, then as often as not, the stammer will be a lot lighter and looser in that conversation.

GROSS: You know, I'm thinking, you have this problem with a stammer, so speaking has always had obstacles and the threat of failure, right?

Mr. MITCHELL: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)


see transcript @

Dr. Brian Lynch March 2008

Brian Lynch,M.D.
3044 North Laramie
Chicago, Ill 60641 HOMEPAGE - -

Brian Lynch

Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)