Speech-Language Pathology/Stuttering/Why Do Stutterers Avoid Speech Therapy?

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Perhaps 90% of adult stutterers never seek treatment for their stuttering (see the chapter Incidence and Prevalence of Stuttering).

Some stutterers don't know that stuttering treatments are available. Or a stutterer doesn't realize that more than one treatment is available: he tried one therapy, wasn't successful, and doesn't think of trying another therapy.

Stutterers are more likely to seek speech therapy at life changes—when starting college, when graduating from college, looking for a job, etc. When life is unchanging, stutterers see no reason to change their speech.

Getting stutterers to practice 20 minutes a day is difficult. Getting stutterers to use therapy techniques in conversations can be impossible. There are several reasons for this:

  • Stuttering is a developmental disorder. You've stuttered as long as you can remember. People who start stuttering later in life (from a stroke or head injury) almost always seek treatment. To these people, the ability to talk is a major loss. But if you've never talked fluently, you don't know what you're missing. Stutterers may not consider that their stuttering is a problem.
  • Denial—stutterers are embarrassed about stuttering, and so don't want to think about it. Failure at stuttering therapy can support denial—a stutterer goes to a therapy program, the therapy "doesn't work," and now he has an excuse to never try again.
  • Some cultures assume that stuttering is "God's will" or punishment for misdeeds in an earlier incarnation. Other people assume that suffering is the human condition, and they live with difficulties rather than try to solve their problems.

"Aristotle thought that slaves were the ordination of Nature—the devil of it was, the slaves thought so too."

Sally Ballard wrote about her fear of speech therapy for the British Stammering Association newsletter. After describing several bad experiences with speech pathologists as a child (due more to her temper than the speech pathologists), Ms. Ballard describes taking her children to a speech clinic:

I am terrified of [my children] stammering…Even though it did not look as if they would stammer, I took them to a speech therapist. I was petrified of her…She told me that my children were fine, and asked me if I would like help for myself. I said thanks but no thanks, and almost ran out of the room.

Years later, I realized that I could not carry on as I was [having her husband make telephone calls, walking because she couldn't tell the bus driver where to stop]…Even though I was scared of speech therapists, I decided I had to get over my fear…I worked out that it was two main things: the fear of being unable to gain respect [fear that speech pathologists would treat her like a child or a mentally-retarded person], and the fear of being a failure [and continuing to stutter].

I went to my local health clinic and asked (eventually) to see a speech therapist…I went into a flat panic. I could not decide what to do. What if they could not help me? What if I would always stammer or, worse still, what if she helped me overcome my speech problem? I would not have an excuse any more and, if I failed in life, I could no longer put it down to the fact that I stammered. I would have to accept the blame myself.

When the fateful day of my appointment arrived, I was a nervous wreck. I wouldn't let my husband come with me in case I chickened out and didn't go at all, but in the end I went. My palms were sweating by the time I arrived…

The speech pathologist taught Ms. Ballard to "stammer more fluently." The speech pathologist then asked how stuttering affected Ms. Ballard's life. She said that stuttering

had stopped me from doing the one career that I wanted. Teaching. With terrific support from my husband, children, friends, and my speech therapist, I applied to the local college…

Despite rejections from several universities because of her stuttering, Ms. Ballard eventually was accepted. She concluded,

Never give up. If things don't go the way you wanted them to, don't look on the down side of life. Try to look at all the things you have achieved in life. Everyone will be surprised at how much that really is.

For those who do not have access to speech therapy or wish to work on their own, read Self-Therapy for the Stutterer by Malcolm Fraser available from the Stuttering Foundation of America (www.stutteringhelp.org or 800-992-9392).