Those who go to speech therapy are free to set fluency as a goal; as long as he or she knows how such a thing is ‘achieved’. It is not about fighting against stuttering, about using willpower or techniques to control your speech. Speech therapy should be about making the wish come true that is already present within the person who stutters: truly being yourself – of which fluency will be the result.
Wanting to be your true self
Usually people hardly wonder: “Why do I actually go to speech therapy? What prompts me to get started working on my stuttering?” After all, the answer seems so obvious: “Stuttering of course!” But what makes stuttering something that needs to be worked on? Initially, you could argue that stuttering is simply a blockage in the practical sense. That it can take longer to say what you want to say, which is not always convenient. Think of needing more time during a presentation, a poorly timed joke which makes that joke no longer funny, or getting so stuck on a phone call that the person on the other end thinks the connection has been lost and hangs up. Stuttering can get in the way of the most basic social activities, and that alone could be reason enough to want to do something about it.
But to what extent are these practical consequences the reason that people eventually go to speech therapy? A question that can perhaps be answered with the following. Imagine that after every stutter you would get an ultimate feeling of bliss. That after every stutter you would feel like you were living in heaven on earth, totally relaxed and peaceful. Would you still feel the need to do something about stuttering, even if it sometimes gets in the way in a practical sense? Probably not, or at least a lot less. This indicates that there is another reason why people go to speech therapy, namely: the feelings and thoughts that are associated with stuttering. The fear before stuttering and the shame after stuttering, just to name a few simple examples. Not that this is always the case with everyone and every time you stutter, but it won´t be unfamiliar to the person who stutters. And anyone who has been stuttering for a while knows how it can affect you.
The stuttering, the feelings as described above and the accompanying thoughts can eventually cause a considerable internal conflict. A struggle between wanting to say something but not wanting to stutter. A struggle between wanting to express yourself, but not wanting to ‘look bad’. A struggle that leads to dealing with yourself and your speech in a more and more calculated and controlled way. Situations are evaluated in advance, once in the situation the environment is scanned in detail, and when it is time to speak, the words are weighed carefully. Again, this may not always be the case, but the point is clear. The freedom and spontaneity in (social) life is being limited. And as far as we are concerned, that is what underlies the will to do something about stuttering: wanting to be free from that inner struggle so that you can truly be, and express, yourself.
Stuttering as the culprit
During the first steps towards “the stutter-free life”, stuttering itself is sometimes regarded as the major culprit; as that which prevents one from living life to the fullest. The inner struggle is seen only as a result of stuttering, and to stop stuttering would mean that the struggle will also be over. On that basis, an attempt is often made to get rid of only the stuttering. With the practice of speech techniques, tricks and other speech-related exercises, for example. Their aim is to mold speech in such a way that it goes more smoothly. Because after all, it is the stuttering that we want to get rid of.
You practice speaking slower or lengthening sounds. You work on intonation and smoothly sliding into the first letter, sound or word. Supportive breathing techniques or hand gestures are taught so that these measures, when a stutter comes up, can be taken to prevent you from getting stuck. Or possibly a combination of all these things. Hille also learned all this when he went to speech therapy at the age of 22. Along with “mental strategies” that were meant to ensure that he could deal a little more “positively” with his stuttering and speaking situations. And while this worked very well in the beginning, it turned out to be short-lived. That was because he was unable to consistently maintain that “way of speaking”, and he was not alone in this.
Why didn’t it work? Why is that road so difficult for many, and often even impossible to maintain? This is, for example, because we cannot be forced to slow down if we are still hasty on the inside. It also becomes difficult to adopt a positive attitude if the old, negative one, has not yet been let go of. But perhaps the most important reason of all: we don’t want to have a new manner of speaking, because it actually feels just as uncomfortable as stuttering itself. This new way of speaking does not stick because it does not correspond with how it is on the inside, let alone how you want it to be on the inside. In fact, this way of working on stuttering can even increase the internal struggle. After all, stuttering is the enemy, the techniques and tricks are the weapons with which stuttering must be defeated. And what was it all about again?
Becoming free from ‘internal brakes’
Right, you go to speech therapy to become free from that struggle, not to ramp it up. Therefore one can only hope that someone finds a speech therapist that can clearly explain that if someone wants to change something about stuttering, something inside will have to change. Not by trying to “modify” the stutter, or by “shaping” your fluency, but by doing something about what precedes the stutter: the internal struggle. Because before we stutter our muscles are are already locked, negative thoughts have already done their work and the emotions have risen to an unpleasant height. Speech therapist John C. Harrison talks about “internal brakes” that create blocks on the inside, causing us to get stuck on the outside.
The outer stuttering, that which is perceivable on the outside, is the symptom of the inner struggle, or “brakes”. Possible brakes are: conscious tension, unconscious cramps, emotions, negative thoughts or limiting beliefs, just to name a few. So that’s what you should do something about, if you really want to “work on your speech”. This goes beyond working on your speech in itself. In speaking more fluently it is all about freeing yourself (not your speech) from the conscious and unconscious “internal brakes” that do not belong in you. And that isn’t going to happen by using a speech technique and trying to keep thinking positively.
Nor can these “internal brakes” be fixed by standing in the street yelling, talking to hundreds of strangers, or by speaking more assertively, with the hope that eventually only the “gas pedal” will remain pressed and we can “keep going”. Harrison suggested that too, but that’s something we don’t agree with. Because just as with a speech technique, this can also provide some relief for a moment, but without actually letting go of anything, the brakes simply remain in its place and nothing will really change. In the long run, such actions will even create new problems. New tensions, for example, leading to the body and “speech system” becoming even more disrupted and out of balance. No person has become their true self that way.
Letting go, opening up and ‘allowing passage’
While that´s what it´s all about: truly being and expressing yourself – permanently! But we can only be ourselves when we are free from the excess tension, unconscious muscle contractions and beliefs that reside within us. And whoever is free within, shall be free in his or her speech. Because just as stuttering is the symptom of inner blockages, fluency is the result of the absence thereof. The inner blockages must therefore be cleared. This usually does not happen by itself. In order to be able to do that, one must practice letting go, opening up and ‘allowing passage’, and it is best to seek help with that.
A good coach can help you to let go of all blockages that do not belong in you, slowly but surely. This works best if increasingly deeper and more specific relaxation exercises are provided, that are based on the correct way of breathing: pelvic breathing. That is one floor lower than the well-known belly breathing. Breathing from the pelvis brings the much-needed deepening relaxation which allows us to let go of virtually everything we no longer need. In this way one can become free from tension, cramps, emotions and thoughts. Our deepest limiting beliefs can also be resolved in this way, because they are also stored in our body as (unconscious) tension. Trying to talk or think away beliefs is near impossible, because the retained “energy remnants” of old experiences, on which beliefs are based, must also be let go of through deep relaxation.
The result of more and more deep relaxation and letting go, is that we increasingly end up in a so-called “expanded self.” We let go of what we held on to, we de-cramp, so that we open up from within and we literally feel more spacious. In that expanded self, we can then begin to discover that we only need to allow fluent speech to pass through. We become, as it were, the space through which speech can flow effortlessly, without obstacles, by itself. This is a liberating experience for those who experience that within themselves. Then practice gets its value and one understands what speech therapy is all about: becoming free within, discovering our true self – the fluent speaker within us – and expressing that into the world.
Goal and way
Anyone who wants to do so can set fluency as a goal, as long as he or she knows what it’s all about. This is not about a fight against stuttering, about using willpower and techniques to manipulate your speech. The point here is to fulfil the wish that is already present in the person who stutters, to be able to be and express himself more and more fully. And there’s only one way to do so: by “clearing up” within what still blocks the full expression of yourself. Only in this way can one’s speech flow more and more generously. You could then describe the purpose of speech therapy as: to become “permeable” to who you really, inherently, deeply, are – a fluent speaker.
But if you don’t want to commit yourself to anything, you shouldn’t want anything. Because those who do want to – really become themselves – will also have to do something, namely: practise, learn to let go more and more deeply. That is the common thread on this road. We don’t just lose the tension overnight, and therefore we’re not free from stuttering in one day. But anyone who undergoes this process, can come to understand that he or she “only” needs to learn to let go more deeply when a stutter did come up. Besides the fact that this can be an unpleasant idea for some – that it requires practice and patience – this becomes a very deep reassurance for those who experience it firsthand. That all it takes is practice and patience, and that things will get better over time.
It also helps if you do it not just to never stutter again, but more so to become your true self – a free person. After all, being free from stuttering also means being free from the feelings and thoughts surrounding stuttering, because they are often even more bothersome than the stutter itself. When you go this way, stuttering will no longer frighten you and you can continue with what you were already doing: letting go. This way you really come to rest, the fight against stuttering dissolves. And speaking fluently, which through this attitude comes more and more naturally, then becomes like the “icing on the cake”.
Redefining Speech Therapy
For a lot of people, speech therapy feels like a fight against stuttering. As a struggle against something in / of themselves. The choice to go there is therefore easily postponed, because we want to be ourselves, free, free from that inner struggle, instead of being at odds with ourselves. For those who feel that way, it might be nice to read that true speech therapy is all about letting go of that struggle, and that therapy, at the same time, will contribute to a healthy relationship between stuttering and “stutterer”. If all is well, you will also encounter acceptance within speech therapy. For the simple reason that acceptance, stopping the struggle, is part of the path to fluency.
As far as we are concerned, speech therapy should be about helping to free you to “the fluency within you”. Not by imposing a way of speaking onto you, not by telling you what you can and cannot do, and not by doing everything you can to never stutter again. But by providing exercises and good conversations, to relax more and more deeply, to accept and to let go – until the liberation is there. For that reason, we are not in favor of speech techniques and the like, because they distract you from what really matters. Speech techniques tend to make people over-lenient towards the story behind the stuttering. As a result, the inner liberation and the potential “speech transformation” remains untapped. But anyone who comes to us with a learned technique or “trick” does not have to throw it away immediately, because you will gradually let go of that too.
To conclude, you could say that speech therapy, as we practise it, acts as a “midwife” at “the birth” of “the fluent speaker within us”. That fluent speech is already present in us, just waiting to be found and be born. But neither a birth, nor “working on your stutter” is without its risks. There are many pitfalls and difficulties along the way. We discover our resistances and doubts arise in us. Am I going in the right direction? Am I doing it right? But then, whoever is in good “midwife hands” will be able to endure even the most arduous of labor. And when it’s over, the breath comes, the eyes open and then there’s new life. A new, independent, free-standing person, who can express himself freely, who is truly himself. The wish fulfilled.
Hille & Sjoerd