By Rita Greer
As a speech therapist working in Bradford, I have had the opportunity to develop skills in the use of hypnosis and counselling. Combining these two skills, I am able to offer clients with voice or fluency problems an opportunity to learn about themselves, why they are as they are, and how they can make changes.
I prefer that the clients with fluency problems whom I see, have had some conventional speech therapy before coming to me. So they have been taught a technique to control their stammer, and have come to the conclusion that this is not a cure, only a means of control. Quite a number of clients that I see are very adept at using a technique but they prefer not to. They feel that the technique comes between them and what they are trying to communicate. They feel that they are not themselves. The therapy that I offer deals with the whole person, not just the speech problem. I do not set out to 'cure' stammering, but aim to help clients accept themselves just as they are, and then approve of, and like themselves. To accept themselves as they are takes quite a lot of adjusting to; it also necessitates some grieving for the easy fluency that they are probably never going to achieve.
A great deal of the work I do with hypnosis is trying to re-programme the sub-conscious mind, and is based on the philosophy 'we are what we think we are'. I compare the sub-conscious mind to a computer, that is programming us constantly, and we programme it by our thoughts and our language. Unfortunately, though very powerful the sub-conscious mind is unable to reason, has no sense of humour, and does not know the difference between reality and imagination. So if someone is constantly thinking negative thoughts and has a picture of themselves as inadequate, timid and boring, then the sub-conscious mind accepts those thoughts, and programmes the thinker to be just that. So taking that a little further a person who is constantly petrified of speaking because they may stammer has virtually no chance of being fluent, they have programmed their sub-conscious mind to maintain the stammer.
When in a relaxed state such as hypnosis it is easier to start re-programming the sub-conscious mind. This can be done by direct suggestion, but the most powerful way is to use visualization. So I help clients find ways of visualizing what they want for themselves. Visualizing themselves relaxed and confident and at ease in all speaking situations.
But first therapy is directed at helping the client get to know more about themselves, and I use a combination of personal construct psychology and hypnosis to achieve this. Regression in hypnosis is a very powerful way of helping clients get to know themselves, but some clients are not prepared to be regressed, and some young clients, I feel, are not mature enough to cope with regression, as the experience can be very powerful and traumatic. However, clients who do experience regression gain a great deal of insight into why they are as they are. I find that when dealing with clients who have voice problems there is often suppressed trauma that needs releasing and this allow maximum change to take place. However, I do not find this generally true for clients who have fluency problems. Even if suppressed trauma is released, and often there appears to be none, it does not cause any change in fluency. However, regression always enables learning to take place, and encourages a letting go of outdated beliefs that stop growth taking place.
I call this stage of therapy an 'emptying out' time, allowing clients to let go of old thought patterns and conditioning that may have been appropriate once i.e. when they were younger, but is now inappropriate. When the emptying out stage is over, then the building up stage of therapy begins. This includes confidence building, helping clients realise their own strengths and building on them, helping clients like themselves, and be aware of their own individuality and also encouraging clients to enjoy and feel relaxed about communicating. Feeling relaxed about communicating enables clients to choose whether, in some situations, it is appropriate to use a technique. For example, it may be appropriate in some meetings to use a technique for a limited period of time, but be quite safe to resume normal non-fluency, which is probably less tiring, at the end of the meeting.
The work that is done in the clinic has to be followed up daily at home and clients are helped to do this in whatever ways are appropriate. Initially they are given a confidence building tape to listen to daily at home. But I also teach self-hypnosis and visualization, as it is better if the client can be responsible for their own re-reprogramming. Some clients find this type of commitment difficult to achieve and rely mainly on tapes but that is their choice.
To reinforce this I also offer clients three subliminal tapes that have been designed and made by a colleague and myself. The first one is aimed at helping clients feel relaxed, peaceful and calm, and was originally designed for a child, so is very gentle. The second one is to increase confidence and help clients feel good about themselves, and the last one is aimed at encouraging a relaxed and positive attitude towards speech and to becoming as fluent as possible. However, these tapes have to be offered to clients very cautiously and only when therapy is well advanced otherwise they can be counter-productive. if the tapes are given out too soon the sub-conscious mind could be receiving conflicting messages and the client would feel extremely uncomfortable. When the tapes are used cautiously as part of an overall programme they are extremely powerful and encourage maximum change to take place.
Obviously this is very much an overview of the therapy that I do and it is individually tailored to each client. Some clients take a great deal of time at the emptying-out stage and need relatively little at the building up stage. Others are very quickly through the emptying-out stage but need a great deal of support in learning to accept and like themselves. Some clients, who from a listeners point of view have only a mild dysfluency, need a great deal of help at this stage and it takes a lot of time for them to accept themselves just as they are.
With young stammerers, under fourteen, I use a story-telling technique helping them at an early age to be aware of the positive things in their lives and how to use them to feel confident and safe inside themselves, helping them at an early age to be positive thinkers.
I am learning constantly from my clients and always looking for more ways of helping change to occur. But I stress I do not offer a 'cure' for stammering. I offer a chance for clients to grow and be the individual they were born to be, a chance for clients to accept, approve of and like themselves.
From the Winter 1991 issue of 'Speaking Out'