Have you been through a therapy program hoping to improve your speech fluency and in the end didn’t see much change? If you have, you are not alone. This is too often the case, even after years of treatment. Why? Who is at fault? Is it you, the client? Is it the clinician? Is it that fluency in real life is not possible? Or is the treatment approach that is not adequate? In my next few blogs I will discuss where I think the fault lies from the all these angels.
Before I begin, however, I want to say that looking for the responsible source i.e. “fault” is not the same as placing blame. There is a big difference between where the responsibility lies and the need for blame or guilt. For instance, once most people died from pneumonia. Was the doctor or patient guilty? No. Was the treatment at fault? Yes, and the reason was the lack of knowledge about bacteria and how to kill it. Therefore, at that time we could not blame or place guilt on the part of the people involved. Today, we have the knowledge of how to treat most cases of pneumonia, so a doctor could be blamed for not recognizing the signs of pneumonia (as my doctor failed to do 3 years ago when I had it); a patient could be blamed for not going to a doctor when feeling sick, or not demanding better tests and treatment when the condition is not improving (as I did when I wasn’t getting better), or not taking the medicine that was prescribed. Nevertheless, I would prefer to search for source, because blame and guilt are not constructive in a search for solutions.
So let’s get back to stuttering. If we are going to look for whose fault it is that so many people do not achieve the long-term ability to speak fluently, I think that the first place to look is the treatment approaches being used. Simply stated, I believe that the major cause for the failure of treatment is a lack of knowledge of how to treat it. Most treatment approaches focus on fluency or try to modify the moment of stuttering. However, it is obvious to anyone who has tried it that you don’t become a fluent speaker by treating the stuttered speech and trying to make your speech non-stuttered.
Speaking is a neurological activity in the brain of a person who has thoughts, feelings, intentions, genetic tendencies and memories. We have seen through various types of brain scans that the brain works differently in people who stutter. Therefore, changes in the brain need to be made in order to create fluent speech.
Not only is speaking is an activity of the brain but for the most part it is an unconscious activity. People are not meant to think about how to speak; how to get words out; which words should be said. People are not meant to preplan their speech before speaking. Why then should stuttering therapy train people to monitor and control how they breathe, how to hold or relax the muscles of the mouth, how to say sounds more gently and smoothly, how to change the way you stutter? Stuttering represents control of a system that is meant to function subconsciously, so why ask people who stutter to develop speech controls and “tools”? Tools and controls are not part of normally fluent speech.
Managing stuttering by way of speech controls has been the long-standing method of choice. It’s time to try a different approach, one that has eluded too many clinicians and clients for too long. We have to keep our minds open to a new perspective that incorporates research findings and clinical observations. This is the 21st century. Strides are being made in the understanding and treatment of human conditions that only a short time ago were not understood or treatable. The old paradigms that have been the driving force of stuttering treatment until now do not fall in line with current research and do not explain all that is known about the nature of stuttering. Until stuttering therapy helps people use their brain the way it is meant to function in order to produce speech, the ability to produce normally fluent speech will continue to elude clients and clinicians alike. Change is a reality of life. Now is the time to rid ourselves of the concepts that have not lead people who stutter in the direction that will give them a successful treatment experience. Now is the time for developing a treatment approach that will lead clients to speak with ease and freedom from control.