Underlying fear: Stammering therapy’s focus on fluency just ‘chips away tip of iceberg’

Ahead of The King’s Speech hitting the Opera House stage, a Manchester speech therapist has admitted that current techniques for overcoming stammering may have the wrong focus.

The King’s Speech, which tells the story of King George VI’s reign and his struggles with stammering, will be performed at the Opera House from Monday March 30 until Saturday April 4.

Jennifer Roche, a Sale speech therapist, told MM that she hopes the play will wipe out the stigma that still surrounds stammering.

But has also highlighted how vital it is that treatment reaches the core fears the sufferer faces rather than just using techniques to amend their spoken fluency.

She told MM: “If you think of that moment when you find it hard to be fluent, you might be nervous or in an interview situation or a presentation, I think people tend to put that onto people who stammer because that’s what they experience.

“This may not be the case though for that person and it might appear to the listener that a sufferer might not know what they want to say because there are signs there and there’s a breakdown in communication.

“But they do know what they’re going to say, they just have trouble saying it and that’s what the public need to understand. The actual stammer is just the tip of the iceberg.

“If you think of an iceberg, you can see a bit above the water and that would be the repetitions or the blocks.

“But you can’t see what is under the surface and that might be the way the person feels and reacts to stammering.

“Chipping away at the top is one place to work but underneath is also a huge area.”

Former sufferer Max Gattie feels current methods for dealing with stammering are too difficult and a more neurological therapy may be more beneficial.

He said: “There’s a lot that can be done to improve therapy. They aren’t that great at the moment, they’re very difficult and they require continued work and that’s an area I’m doing research into.

“There might be a solution in that you can get some neurological therapy. The idea would be that you would do some therapy that targets how the brain works.

“What you tend to find is that people who stammer have particular patterns in their brain and I think it might be possible to change those patterns.”

It took Max decades to properly get over his stammering, discovering it firstly when he was around four years old and only overcoming it when he was over 30.

He added:  “What people would like is for some magic to happen when you go to a clinic and that isn’t how it is. You aren’t ever really clear of the stammering.

“There’s always a little bit more to do in terms of awareness like educating kids in the playground.

“Kids see stammering as something that is quite unusual in comparison to the other kids they hang around with so it needs to be constantly attended to.

“There was a lot of bullying when I was a teenager, weirdly it wasn’t directed at my stammering but with a stammering problem it becomes difficult to defend yourself verbally.

“I became vulnerable to a range of other bullying attacks. You’re an easy target and it’s difficult to stand up for yourself.”

Max has found that many people who attend the support group have come because therapies have not worked for them and have sometimes caused even more problems.

Not being fluent in speech results in the fear of speaking and social anxiety then develops to leave the fluency quite a minor part of the problem.

In the future, perhaps we will see a shift in focus with speech therapy, with perseverance and acceptance at the forefront of the approach, which will hopefully produce better results.

Image courtesy of Momentum Pictures, via YouTube, with thanks.

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