When people with speech dysfluency such as stammering book to see me, they often ask (as with many other types of clients) what I am going to do. Like with any other client, I always say that I don’t know. One of the things about being an NLP consultant is that I am always aware there is an individual who is having the problem, rather than a problem with a person attached! So how can I know in advance, what is going to help, before I meet and talk to the person properly?
However, as much as I hate generalizing what is going to be the way to treat someone with a stammering/stuttering problem there are certain things I will be watching and listening for first.
How Not Why
In the initial part of the session, I am going to need to find out how they have been doing their stammer. As any practitioner will no doubt concur, this is when my clients try to tell me why and not how. I keep going back to the how questions. How are you thinking just before you stammer? Have you already imagined stammering hours or days before a particularly challenging event? What are you saying to yourself? What are the pictures in your head? Where does it feel like the words are getting caught? In your throat? Chest? Mouth? This last is really important as it lets me know where they are tensing when they would be better served by relaxing and flowing. I will be asking about whether they even get stuck when they talk to their cat or out loud to themselves when they are alone. I have rarely met a stammerer who says they can’t even speak to themselves out loud without stammering. And I have never met a stammerer who stammers when they sing!
This tells you something important. They are not broken!! As with so many of the problems that find their way to my clinic, they are just doing something differently when confronted with certain situations. Some say it is worse when they meet people for the first time. Some tell me it is worst when they feel they are being judged. And there are individual unique stories too. But once you accept that sometimes it is possible to speak fluently then you know it is just a question of finding out how they do it when it is working well for them and transfer the principles into the challenging situations. Also, if they speak fluently when alone, I will be paying attention to how they are doing their focus of attention as this is sometimes part of what is causing the problem.
Being Fully Present with Your Client
Importantly, while we are talking about the things I mention above I will be watching and listening very carefully to notice how well they are breathing and where it looks and sounds like they are inappropriately tense. I will be watching how they focus on me when they are talking to me and noticing what changes when they get stuck.
As speech is dependent on breath and flow, it is especially important for people with this problem to learn to take plenty of breath in and release it in an open easy way. So in many cases, my first job is to fill them with confidence, get rid of any fear (humour is the best tool I find) and begin the job of training them to breathe the way most fluent speakers do – or even better.
I have modeled some of the best speakers and so I teach my clients who come to see me with dysfluency issues how to breathe more like a fluent expert talker. In the session, I can only teach them and get them to practice a bit, but this is physical as well as psychological and they really are going to have to go away and practice practice practice so that the new way of using their muscles becomes automatic.
Back into the Flow
A lot of stammerers blame the stammer for their shyness or unwillingness to speak. But it is a vicious circle. If speech is held back it has a horrible effect. Even in a fluent speaker, being reticent or unwilling or afraid to let it flow is unhelpful. And the sound of consistently hesitant speech sounds awful to me. In fact, I feel in general that held back speech is stingy and I get quite cross (well I pretend to get cross!) and tell my clients to get more generous with sharing their thoughts and feelings!! Fear is a horrible master in general and often part of the problem for a stammerer.
Listening to Your Own Voice
Because of the fact that nobody stammers when singing I often ask clients to sing. Sometimes they really don’t want to, but I use humour and do it myself to get them to relax and do this. It doesn’t have to sound tuneful. I usually just get them to count up to ten to any tune. In many cases, it doesn’t sound like singing at all. But because they think they are singing, it becomes really fluent which often surprises them hugely. I record them doing this and singing the words that they previously couldn’t get out of their mouths. Then when they listen back they can hear it just sounds normal and interesting and not like singing at all. Then I get them to track the sensations and breathing they are doing so they can reproduce the feeling and muscle use when they talk.
Sometimes I get them to go from singing to speaking and back to singing. And I record it too so they can hear themselves. In fact, more than one stammerer has become totally fluent by listen to him/herself speaking. There is some evidence that the feedback loop of talking and listening to your own voice is often not functioning the same in a stammerer as in a fluent speaker. I had one young girl who came to see me whose younger sister had been born with a loud voice and who overrode her when she was speaking. Once she was listening to herself and cutting out the background noise from her attention the stammer miraculously disappeared.
I also once worked with a beautiful young girl who was in an arranged marriage and was afraid of her husband’s sexual demands. Her thighs were gripped permanently closed. When she released the tension in her thighs, amazingly the knock on effect was her speech became fluent. I mention this to emphasize how important it is to watch and listen to your client to find out what, in their own unique case, is going on.
Change of Attitude
So many people are afraid to ‘get it wrong’. I think this often starts in school where they trained so many of us to be afraid. I often tell clients how I have a voice inside my own head that celebrates when I discover I have got it wrong! After all, when I am right, I am not just about to learn to do something better! I love the feeling of learning and I relentlessly install that in clients. When you notice you have got something wrong, that is the perfect opportunity to learn to do better and to me, that is one of life’s pleasures. I hope to go on being a good learner til my last breath. So being wrong becomes fun instead of dread. That is an attitude that is often a good one to install.
I also relentlessly install a very important concept that I learned from Dr. Bandler (the co-creator of NLP and my teacher) and which opened up my life hugely. “Instead of comparing yourself with others, compare yourself with you, yesterday. And if you are doing better today than yesterday, you know you are going in the right direction”. What a great and freeing thought! Who wants to be perfect anyway? That would be sooo boring! It also turns the problem from fixed to being a process of improvement and focuses attention on improvements instead of what is not working. This is very important to convey as sometimes it takes a stammerer a few weeks to learn, practice and become unconsciously competent at fluency. So in the session, I teach them all they need to know and then send them off to practice.
The Icing on the Cake
In some cases, that is all that is needed. In others, I need them to come back for a top up, to check they are correctly doing the exercises I set them, or to peel off the last layers of whatever they are still doing in order to stammer.
Many of my clients have already tried speech therapy or other stammering ‘cures’ and they complain that previous courses of treatment have been completely useless, or have made them sound robotic. I want my clients not only to be more fluent, but to talk with an interesting and expressive voice too. So that robotic sound is something that I inure against completely.
Once they are breathing, laughing, flowing and having had some more useful ways of thinking installed they are ready for the last part. They will already be noticing a significant improvement, but if there is more that can be done I am not finished! So even if they are already thrilled with the improvement, I do like to do everything possible to make them as fully fluent as I can.
Sometimes, blood supply isn’t as good in some people’s lips. Sometimes people have less flexible tongues than others. Sometimes people have very stiff inflexible jaw joints.
So after the breathing is newly retrained and the thinking is freed up, there may be some tongue twisters that are advisable for them to practice to get more flexibility in the specific problem area. This is only relevant after the main problems of breath and thought habits have been sorted. Often it isn’t even necessary as they are already fluent and speech is flowing perfectly on their breath. But if it is, I will then give them a few silly tongue twisters to practice to really fine tune and train their mouth and breathing to support fluency.
Gaga, mama, dada, kaka, peepee
Some of the best exercises for greater flexibility are baby sounds. When babies are learning to talk, they make certain sounds. As with so many miraculous things in us amazing humans, these sounds are perfectly designed to exercise the muscles in the right way to enable fluency in any language. Ga ga is the perfect way to exercise the back of the tongue muscles. Mama is the perfect word to repeat to get your lips flexible etc. So we have a lot of fun talking to each other in baby talk and I send them away to practice this every day until they get their lips or tongue or jaw flexibility working well for them and the blood supply to their mouths flowing easier.
All in all, I truly believe that in the majority of cases, what has flummoxed science in the past, stopping stammering and stuttering and learning to speak more fluently, is usually something, that given the right attitude and exercises can be changed for the much much happier. 🙂
Visit The JustBeWell pages on stopping stammering here – Stop Stuttering
Watch this short video By Laura on YouTube -click here – Help With Stammering