The guest speaker at our August 2009 conference call was Bob Bodenhamer, who is a Neuro-Semantics practitioner in the United States. He talked about the possibility of installing new networks in the brain to help fluency.
He talked particularly about Norman Doidge's book The Brain that changes itself. This indicated that we could change our brain anatomy simply using the power of imagination.
A particularly interesting experiment from the book, done by Pascual-Leone at Harvard Medical School, involved learning to play a sequence of notes on a piano. One group practised by actually playing the sequence, and another just imagining doing so. After 5 days, with 2 hours actual or mental practise each day, those who had only imagined playing the notes produced the same physical changes in their motor system as those who had actually been playing. Also, after the 5 days, the 'mental practice' group were as accurate at actually playing the sequence as the 'actual practice' group had been after 3 days. A single 2-hour session of actual practice by the 'mental' group brought them up to the same level as the other group had reached after 5 days.
Another study in Doidge's book, by Drs. Guang Yue and Kelly Cole, found that a finger muscle could be strengthened simply by imagining one was using it. A 'mental practice' group imagined they were contracting the muscle, whilst also imagining a voice shouting at them, "Harder! Harder! Harder!" At the end, the mental practice group had strengthened the muscle by 22%, versus 30% for the physical practice group.
Bob stressed the difference between short-term learning, such as cramming for an exam which is 'easy come, easy go', and longer term learning. To make permanent neural connections, he said, needs slow steady work.
He took participants through an excercise to help strengthen neural connections for a more positive outlook towards feared speech situations:
Listen to an excerise
Bob took participants through an excercise to help create new ways of thinking when in a 'feared' speech situation. It lasts about 7½ minutes.
The meaning you give
Bob's view is that stammering is not about speech, but about what meaning the person who stammers places on the context.
He described the example of a young man in his mid-twenties who only stammered in front of people he perceived to be an authority figure. "To me," said Bob, "that's cognitive - something's going on with thinking. What different meaning is he giving to the authority figure that he doesn't give everybody else? When he gets around a perceived authority figure, it terrifies him. He was scared to death that he would say something that was wrong or not 'perfect'. I haven't met a person who stutters yet who wasn't perfectionistic. I thought I'd check out where does this came from. We have ways of getting to the root of something pretty quick, and it had to do with his relationship with his father - I should say lack of relationship. He feared his father. If he was playing a ball game and his father came, he would go all to peices. He was scared to death he would make mistake on the field. So rather than say something that wasn't perfect, that wouldn't suit his father, he blocked. He wouldn't say anything. We did some therapy on that, and he's one of those miracles. We had a 2-hour session scheduled, did 1 hour and that that's all it took. That doesn't happen too often, that's rare. With him, when he found out he was causing it himself, that he was fearful he would scr*w up, that he was identifying everybody else with his dad, every authority figure became his dad and he became a small boy - when he found out he was doing this to himself and knew why he was doing it, he quit. He just quit."
Bob considers that if you can speak fluently in one context you can in all - on the surface it's very simple but it can be very complex getting over to there. You get fearful of what the other person might think and that triggers your stammering strategy. You have a mind-body strategy for stammering, and one for fluency. He sees both as learned behaviours.
If you take what the neurosciences are finding out about repetitive learning and think about how many years you have stammered, how much you have repeated the negative thinking, you can see how difficult it is to stop. "You have learned how to stammer really, really well." But also in your mind-body system is another learning, how to speak fluently. Because you don't stammer in every situation, such as by yourself or with the pet, or with the trusted friend etc, where you're not bothered about how you look, not perfectionistic. Each person's different. "You've got two strategies. The meanings you give the context will determine which strategy you use in communicating."
As well as the exercise you can listen to above, Bob suggested a 'Rehearsal for People who Stutter':
"1. The fear & anxiety about stuttering pops into your mind. Feel it!
2. Say to the fear & anxiety, "No, I know how to speak fluently." (Make it a 'powerful' "no")
3. Recall your fluent state of mind (be in it - feel that calm relaxed state).
4. Say to yourself, "Yes, I know how to speak fluently!" (Make it a powerful 'yes'.)
Repeat regularly for 4-16 weeks. If it still hasn't 'sunk in' to your unconscious mind that you know how to speak fluently and that it is "OK" now for you to speak fluently, keep practicing until you have created those brand new neural pathways of freedom in your mind. Some spend 1 to 3 years doing this."
Bob Bodenhamer's website is www.masteringstuttering.com