|About the presenter: Gunars K. Neiders, Ph.D. Electrical Engineering; M.A. Psychology, Psy. D. Candidate was born on January 24, 1937 in Latvia, where he lived through WWII during the battles between Russian, German, and American armies. After spending years in refugee camps he immigrated with his family to the United States. After working 36 years at The Boeing Company aerospace missiles, he returned to school studying to become a doctor of psychology with the goal of helping others who stutter. He writes, "Although some of the sixteen stuttering therapies I had helped me, a special kind of psychology (REBT) helped me the most in reducing my stuttering, finding the right wife, and living happily."|
Prelude: A Snapshot of a Day in June 2007
As I woke up in the morning, I brushed my teeth, got my cup of coffee, exercised, and got dressed all the while listening to the National Public Radio. I opened up my appointment book and saw that today I was scheduled to call Sears for repair of the refrigerator, participate in a mock-deposition in Forensic Psychology at Argosy University, and was also scheduled to baby-sit and put my two granddaughters to bed. I have gotten in the habit of writing down my schedule and prioritizing my tasks without "urgentizing" or "awfulizing" if all of them don't get done or something goes awry.
On this particular day there were no unpleasant surprises. I fought my way through the voice-mail jungle at Sears, in my mock deposition in Forensic Psychology I performed well enough (although I took exception to some things my professor took a stand on (not a wise thing to do) and had a marvelous time reading bedtime stories to my three- and five-year-old granddaughters. The littlest one did not want to go to sleep: the required warm milk that was sent back because it was not warm enough, there was the discussion whether I should read three or four books (I gave in, of course), and finally I had to kiss her two favorite animals goodnight.
A Look Backward at Some Trials
Life was not always as pleasant or productive as it is now. Having been born in Latvia during Latvia's independence, then being invaded first by the Soviet army, and afterward having to live under the Nazis was not easy. I seemed to have felt the daily fear my parents felt for our lives. Although there did not appear to be any stuttering in my ancestry, within a few months after learning to talk I started to stutter. Simply put, I struggled with my words, was aware of my struggles, and felt helpless and hopeless in ever being able to communicate adequately. I recall my stuttering to have been extremely severe. For example, when I started out in school, I was so afraid to talk that I did not raise my hand to ask to go to bathroom, but valiantly tried to "hold it in" with embarrassing results, of course. I can still recall the small rivulet snaking its way toward the front of the room in the rows between the desks.
I can look back to that instance and some other occasions in my life with amusement. However, what happened when I was twelve could have had a serious impact on my family's and my life. At that time my family and I were in a refugee camp on a subsistence diet of three meals of "glop" a day eaten out of a central kitchen with a tin type of plate and one spoon. The rest was eaten with our fingers. World War II had ended and the refugees from Eastern Europe had been herded into Refugee Camps in Germany. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel about orphans and workhouses where asking for seconds would have been laughed at. We were huddled into emergency shelters, often in large rooms separated only by hanging sheets. The atmosphere was similar to that of the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katerina. We had one change of outer clothing, two sets of underwear and no entertainment except communal singing and playing with a rag soccer ball. Our schools were taught by excellent professionals (math by engineers, biology by doctors and nurses, language by authors and poets, etc.) but without any books, sometimes with one small slate tablet each, and once in a while some papers and pencils or crayons (the gift of US churches, etc.). Life was bleak. However, we were not starving as we had during our flight from the advancing Russian armies. Our girls and women were usually not attacked by the occupying United States army. The girls and women who had remained under the Russians were not so lucky.
The opportunity came for my father, a doctor; my mother, a dentist; my three sisters aged 15, 13, and 2; and me, a 12-year-old severe stutterer to come to United States - our first choice in resettlement. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod was guaranteed that we would not end up on welfare, or become wards of the state, and because of educational background the government was willing to take a chance on us.
In those days in order to immigrate to the United States you had to undergo a series of health tests, background checks ensuring that you were not Nazi sympathizers, and other tests to establish that you were of mentally sound mind. Everything went very well, as expected. Then we had an interview with an US Consular representative. My father and mother could converse in elementary English. My two older sisters and I were able to understand and speak some English as well.
The interview with my father, mother, and two older sisters went well. My youngest sister just smiled. Then it came my turn. When I was asked for my name I had one of my silent blocks. It took me 5 breaths and I still could not get a sound out.
By that time I had been already exposed to some "stuttering therapy" without any success. The two or three self-proclaimed stuttering therapists had done nothing, but taught me to keep on trying to talk. Any of the other techniques probably only raised my awareness that sometimes I just cannot get any sounds out, let alone say anything. My stuttering was so severe that even substitution was not an option. When I was asked my name I was determined to say my name. Nothing came out. Nothing. With my secondary stuttering symptoms and non-response, I feared it would reflect on my mental competence.
My mother and father told the US Consular representative that I stuttered. He must have understood. The kind American Consulate representative gave me a piece of paper and a pencil to write my name on. However, in my panic and possibly due to my stuttering therapy, as I understood it, I was determined to say my name. Writing my name would have been an admission that I am not as worthwhile a person as anyone else. I persisted to struggle, exhibit all types of secondary stuttering symptoms, and the ominous silence persisted.
Eventually we were escorted out of the office. My father stayed behind for a while, and I fled into the woods. I was not heard from for 8 hours. I wept and could not be consoled for two to three weeks. Those weeks I spent alone, blaming myself for letting my family down. I don't recall details of those days, but I believe it was traumatic. I have not really gone through the details in my mind. I have put them to rest. I do not believe that now I could recall any of the original details anyway and at that time I was not aware of any benefit mulling over what had happened.
Although school was in session, those two, three weeks I had no contact with my school mates or soccer buddies and only ate and slept sporadically. I would not talk with my family, because I knew I had swept away their dreams not only because of my stuttering, but because of not responding when being asked to write my name. I kept on blaming myself mercilessly and would not allow anyone to console me.
Eventually we were cleared for immigration to the United States. I can only assume that the kind US Consulate employee somewhere had been exposed to other persons who stuttered and knew that I was not going to end up the ward of the state. I never talked with my parents or sisters about it. I believe that there is a reason why the windshield on a car is so much bigger than the rear view mirror. The future lies ahead of us and looking backward especially with regret, albeit entertaining, steals energy from building a better future.
My Solution-Oriented Struggle for Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Relative Fluency
Discussion of general life theme. Fortunately, I have always believed that I can influence my fate. I have always believed that I do not have to wait for somebody else to find solutions to lifešs problems for me. Like Thomas Edison who tried innumerable alternate filaments for the light bulb, I tried at least seventeen stuttering therapies in finding a solution to my struggling, incoherent speech. Sometimes, I also made myself unhappy because I believed that stuttering made my less worthwhile. The problems with my speech, and my self-downing impeded my progress in school, career, and finding girlfriends and friends. But I believed that there was a solution to be found. After each failed speech therapy, after the initial shock, I figuratively "dusted myself off after being thrown by the new pony of hope" and looked for another "steed to ride on into the sunset of happiness of my life". There were a lot of emotional bruises, a lot of disappointments, but in the end I always came away with the Thomas Edison-like attitude which can be reconstructed as being something as follows: "I have not failed in trying this material as a filament for the light bulb. I have only found out another material that does not work. Now, what else have I learned from this trial, isn't there something I can incorporate from this trial in future experimentation?"
Some early experiences. At Ohio State University I was exposed to therapy loosely based on the writings of Charles Gage Van Riper and Wendell Johnson. The graduate assistants there were not very effective in teaching the speech techniques during our group therapy sessions, nor did they understand about the difficulty and necessity in changing both physical, mental, and emotional habits. Throughout my twelve years at Ohio State University, I must have worked with at least three clinical directors in stuttering therapy and a half a dozen graduate students. Did I have twelve continuous years of therapy? No. I would get discouraged by the lack of progress, stop, and resume therapy when the therapists changed.
After graduation, I kept on trying one therapy after another. I got somewhat better as speaking, but nothing seemed to really click. I ordered and read all the books on stuttering therapy I could find, including all the pamphlets provided by the Stuttering Foundation of America. When I die, somebody will inherit an extensive historical treasure trove of stuttering literature.I diligently practiced most of what I read and kept on searching for new therapists.
What did my seventeen therapies teach me? The glue to my self-therapy happened to be my openness to the scientific method and logical thinking. Wendell Johnson's approach using General Semantics came the closest to helping me in my stuttering self-therapy. What really provided help to me was Albert Ellis' extension of General Semantics in his Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy. I learned to be able to separate my self-worth as a human being independent of whether I stutter or not. I learned through massive cognitive and shame attacking exercises to accept myself as a Fallible Human Being, who can stand stuttering, does not think of stuttering as being awful, and has no need to down myself when I fall back in a stuttering pattern. I need no perfect fluency and I don't place demands on myself, although I have strong desires and am willing to work hard for what I want more fluent speech. I do not feel low tolerance for discomfort or frustration, and know that I can stand to work more on my speech, attitudes, and changing my emotions, if necessary.
I also learned "easy onsets," "pullouts," "voluntary stuttering," "elongation of vowels," patience, and a sense of humor and humility. Sometimes all of those come in handy.
Am I fluent? Am I a person who stutters? Let us start with my experiences. I tend not to hear my disfluencies even when I have them. Some recordings I make back me up that in some circumstances there are no disfluencies, others reveal at least some full word repetitions. However, I can readily say that my disfluencies, such as they are, did not interfere with my school work for my Psychology Doctorate nor did they interfere with treating my clients during my internships. Above all I can't remember when I was last ashamed, anxious, or felt guilty about how I speak. Sometimes I have moments that I stutter. If I stop, I can adjust my attitude, insert a few voluntary repetitions, use some other tools to control and smooth out my speech. Sometimes, I just let it go.
Pursuit of fluency and unconditional self-acceptance can be rewarding and successful. However, mental, emotional and speech habits do not change easily. Right now I am writing my dissertation that will document one way how to use various psychological and speech therapy techniques to attain imperfect fluent speech and eliminate the emotional baggage. I believe the method I am proposing is very effective and efficient. There are other ways as evidenced by people in our community who have also become practically fluent in ordinary speech. They are not fazed by occasional disfluencies, because they know they can control their attitudes and emotions and can manage tough speaking situations. They know occasional disfluency does not have to lead to relapse. Anyone who wants a draft of my dissertation may request it sometime early in December 2007, if they e-mail me their e-mail address. At that time I will also be available to talk on the phone so anyone can hear the extent of my fluency.
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