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The road to stammering openly

| 01.06.2011

A participant in a TV documentary about stammering continued even afterwards to try and avoid doing so in front of other people. She talks about how hypnotherapy helped her to stammer openly.

Brain imageI would like you to join me as I tell you about my own journey with stammering - perhaps an enemy for most of my life, but then a friend in disguise, something to be proud of almost. My stammering began around early school age, but the avoidance behaviour really kicked in early adolescence so that by university age I was actively avoiding presentations and tutorials and of course every situation where I had to say my name. The "I don't stammer" front and the wish to appear "normal" was an extremely powerful mental barrier standing in the way of me just being me.

Of course in working life, the pressures continue to mount. Your colleagues communicating in the most articulate manner, the words eloquently flowing from their lips in meetings, on the phone, so completely effortless. "I could never do that, but I have to or I won't succeed" - these thoughts were my driving force for seeking speech therapy, for the first time in my life at the age of 25.

The "I don't stammer" front and the wish to appear "normal" was an extremely powerful mental barrier standing in the way of me just being me.

A huge amount of the therapy was just the sheer relief of offloading years and years worth of bad feelings - blame, embarrassment, self-doubting and anxiety, onto another person (the speech therapist). Then came the de-sensitisation process - actually telling people I have a stammer or stammering in front of them. An emotionally draining time - embarrassment, wondering what people really thought of me, perhaps followed by a feeling of being proud of myself, but then squirming inside again.

Appearing on TV

It was at this point in my therapy when I responded to an advert on making a TV programme about people who stammer. They wanted someone who hid their stammer, but wanted to tell others. So there I found myself being filmed whilst telling my best friends I had a stammer. Then weeks later, my photo being seen in the local paper by all my work colleagues and of course the program being aired at prime time on television. The next day at work however, only a few people were brave enough to approach me and from the rest, an uneasy silence. Had I done the right thing? Well, at least everyone knew now.

Despite all this, I was still not comfortable stammering in front of others - to me this was just a huge challenge, not particularly made easier by people knowing about my dysfluency. The next seven years were much the same, avoidance seemed the only option.

The negative associations I had with speaking and stammering were rooted deep within my subconscious mind.

Fresh incentive

It was the passing of my Dad last year that motivated me once again. But this time it was for real - I was finally going to be myself, accepting my stammer. This time around, speech therapy gave me a feeling of really being supported. It was just a few weeks into the desensitisation process that I was considering having hypnotherapy for my stammer - it had been so powerful in helping me through pregnancy so I was sure it would help my speech. Instead however, I just decided to take the plunge and actually train to be a hypnotherapist. Tapping in the power of my own and others' mind was so exciting and appealing. This deeply relaxing process could really change the negative mental associations that people have built up over their life. It was on the first day of my course that I realised that this was the reason why I continued my avoidance behaviour - even though I had offloaded emotionally, and even though people knew about my stammer, the negative associations I had with speaking and stammering were rooted deep within my subconscious mind.

It was after just one or two sessions of hypnotherapy that I was confident enough to stammer openly, with a feeling of complete calmness and self-belief. Finally being able to look people in the eye, communicate effectively and having no embarrassment at all, and finally achieving that goal I had daydreamed about for all those years. It felt so good.

My confidence is such that I am now a practising hypnotherapist, of course, with a passionate interest in people who stammer, helping them to transform themselves into confident, assertive individuals who are proud of who they are and able to use their experiences of stammering in a hugely positive way.

Edited version of article in the Summer 2011 issue of Speaking Out, page 12.

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