A recent development of NLP therapy claims to unlock the fluent speech that lies in all of us. Nigel Wilson reports.
In April 2003 I attended the first workshop 'mastering blocking and stuttering' by Bobby G. Bodenhamer in the United States; his manual 'a handbook for gaining fluency' formed the basis of the workshop. This article is primarily to introduce those like me who stammer, and therapists, to Bodenhamer's approach in utilising Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Neuro-Semantics, (NS). His work aims to help us understand why we stammer, the thought patterns that support the stammer, and use of the many powerful tools and techniques of NLP and NS to break the stammering cycle to achieve fluency. The treatment concept is based on the belief that 'if you speak fluently in just one context, you can learn to speak fluently in all contexts'.
NLP was not totally new to me. I had attended a workshop in Southampton a few years ago run by Mike Jones, a recovered stammerer and NLP practitioner. Since then I knew that this was the area of therapy to focus on if I wanted to gain improved fluency. Most of my experience of therapies in the past had focused on trying to gain control of the symptoms of stammering rather than tackling the underling cause. These therapies ranged from syllabic speech (talking like a Dr. Who Dalek) and Andrew Bell's 'head nodding' technique in the 1970's, through to slow prolonged speech and speech modification techniques during the 1980's and 1990's. For me, these techniques inevitably resulted in relapse after an initial period of fluency gain. These relapses were usually accompanied by more severe symptoms to those prior to treatment; this was especially so with the Andrew Bell 'cure' I ended up with extreme head jerks accompanying my stammer.
Fortunately, therapy in the UK is now more holistic in nature introducing a more cognitive (thinking) approach to treatment along side speech modification techniques such as some of the courses offered by the City Lit in London.
Before I enrolled on the workshop I read many of the articles and case studies on the Neuro-Semantics web site: www.neurosemantics.com. (Update: For stammering this is now www.masteringstuttering.com.) Although Bob Bodenhamer has never stammered himself and is not trained in speech pathology he does have a wealth of experience in counselling and training cognitive-behavioural models of NLP and NS. He has written numerous books and worked with hundreds of clients. Recent successes of working with people who stammer led to his research in this area.
Why is it that I (and most people that stammer) can speak fluently on my own, talking to a pet, child, or very close friend yet stammer when speaking in other situations? Any permanent relief from stammering, I believe, has to come about by dealing with the learned behaviour and responses (both conscious and subconscious) that have become embedded in our brains neural-pathways and body. This started from the time we first believed as a child that we had a speech problem, since then our thoughts, beliefs and the meanings we give them have reinforced the stammer creating a vicious circle. Stammering has always dominated my thoughts and choices I made, in effect 'it' controlled my life. Neuro-Semantics addresses these issues and offers techniques for achieving natural fluent speech.
The mastering blocking and stuttering handbook presents a well rounded theory why we stammer and principles and tools to aid self therapy without going into the complex theory behind NLP and NS. It is not the easiest handbook to read and some concepts would ideally be understood better if introduced by an NLP/NS practitioner personally. And, as with almost all therapies there is a clause: 'Merely reading the material will not suffice. You have to work it. I can show you the path, I can point to the door, but you have to walk through.'
The Neuro-Semantics approach has helped improve my fluency and given me hope in the potential for significant change, time will tell how effective and permanent this is. My stammer has had 30 plus years to embed itself in my mind-body-belief system it is going to take time and commitment to kick it out. What is great is that now, on occasions, I find myself having come to the end of a conversation and thinking Wow, I've just been talking fluently to this person(s) and have not had any thoughts/fears about stammering either before or during the conversation. I was purely thinking about what was being said. I assume this is how non-stammerers converse - it's a new experience for me!
More info: www.masteringstuttering.com
© Nigel Wilson 2003
From the Autumn 2003 edition of Speaking Out