About the presenter: Ellen-Marie Silverman, TSS-The Speech Source, Inc., Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA, received a Ph.D. in speech pathology from the University of Iowa in 1970. Since then, she has been a Post-Doctoral Fellow in developmental psycholinguistics and a member of several university faculties. Dr. Silverman has provided clinical services in diverse service environments. She is founder and administrator of a staffing services company that has provided temporary staff in occupational, physical, and speech therapy and interpreting and captioning services, including live theater captioning, which she has pioneered. Dr. Silverman also has training in transactional analysis, which she has used to form the structure of her clinical approach. The author or co-author of more than 40 papers published in scientific and technical publications, several textbook chapters, and Jason's Secret, a book for children, she has been a frequent presenter at local, state, national, and international meetings. Dr. Silverman is a Fellow of the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association and a member of its Special Interest Division IV. Currently, she is writing an extended account of her clinical experience. A self-taught artist, Dr. Silverman paints in watercolor. Her work has been included in juried shows.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2007.

I am grateful to once again participate in this special forum. I know of no other conference about stuttering so accessible with more potential to provide genuine assistance than this one. So,"Thank You, Judy Kuster!" for sharing yet another burst of your inspiration and networking talent to prepare and present this helpful vehicle. And "Welcome!" to you, dear reader. I hope you will find something helpful in the thoughts I share about Change, something we all long for, dread, and deal with daily in one way or another. After 43 years of working with this process as a professional and more than that as an individual, I find I am just beginning to understand what is involved. And I am impressed by the courage and patience required.

Copyright Notice: This a copyright protected document. Copyright by Ellen-Marie Silverman, 2007. Neither excerpts nor the entire paper may be published in hard copy, copied to another website, or otherwise reproduced in other media without advance permission from Ellen-Marie Silverman, Ph.D. (tsss920499@aol.com). Permission is granted to read or print out a single copy for personal use. --- Ellen-Marie Silverman, Ph.D., Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, June 1, 2007.

Creating Conditions for Change

by Ellen-Marie Silverman
from Wisconsin, USA

Those of us who seek to change the way we communicate or to help someone else do that are the intended audience. What binds us together in common cause is the challenge to manage change in a manner that is liberating. I know for sure that relating well to change bolsters the process and that not doing so causes it to falter, even implode. What follows stems from my experience of what is necessary, what is helpful, and what is involved.


Wherever and whenever we are born and into what circumstance, among the basic elements of life we share are these: We die. We pay taxes. And we deal with change. Since we arrived in this world fresh from our mother's body, we have changed. Our bodies changed. They grew longer, wider, thicker. They grew whiskers. They grew bald. Our interests changed. No longer amused by lying on our back and sucking our toes, we rolled over and crawled. We listened to stories and songs, then wrote them. We longed to become an astrophysicist until we discovered croissants and fancied becoming a chefs de cuisine. Our thoughts about ourselves changed, too, from rapt attention during infancy to anxious assessment during childhood and beyond as we learned to compare our features, skills, and experiences with others and began wondering, "Am I Good Enough?" And, quite often, from then on, we thought we were not. We were too tall, too thin, too quiet, too awkward, too dumb, too poor, and so on. We wanted to fit in, maybe "WOW" our friends. We wanted to change.

Sometimes we did not know we needed to change, but our parents did. They may have decided we needed to stop stuttering, which, often, we did not know we were doing until they, or a relative, or the parent of a friend, or, maybe, a neighbor across the hall, or a classroom teacher said something to us such as, "That was smooth. Cool!" "Slow down!" "Easy!" We were quick to pick up we had to talk better to please those powerful people. We needed to change.


"Before you ask someone to change the world, make sure they like it the way it is."
- - - Vin Diesel, actor

I sometimes think there is nothing as durable as childhood experiences. They color our lives as they shape them. The murky interaction of our individual temperaments with our early experience as interpreted by our maturing cognitive apparatus establishes what we come to believe as true about ourselves, others, and the world (e.g., Chess and Thomas, 2005) and sets the stage for how we think, feel, and act from then on (e.g., Steiner, 1994) unless and until we recreate our individual cosmology. As a personal example, nothing influenced me more than my mother's death when I was three and one-half.

These are the basic facts: Late at night, the first day home from the hospital after delivering my sister via c-section, my mother began retching. The unfamiliar sounds first awakened then frightened me. I put on my slippers and ran into my parents' bedroom just across the hall. When I entered, I saw my mother lying on the far side of the double bed on her right side, her right arm cradling a white coated bucket. She and I were the only ones there. She lifted her head and held me with her eyes. They seemed larger than ever. Fear and love radiating from them held me in silence. She did not speak.

I was terrified. I had never seen my mother, my protector, weak and helpless. She resumed retching. My terror increased as I helplessly watched her body convulse and heard, once again, those wrenching sounds. More than anything, I wanted her to stop. I wanted her to be herself. Not knowing what else to do, I jumped up and down, up and down, shouting, "Shut-up. Shut-up." Almost immediately, my father appeared. He quickly and tenderly carried me from their bedroom. Within moments, he prepared a place for us to sleep together on the living room floor, a few feet from their bedroom door. Early the next morning, he went in to check on her. Then the awful screaming began. She was dead. She had died from a hemorrhagic stroke while we slept.

These are my three and one-half year-old self's interpretations of those facts:

Words kill. I killed my mother with my words. I am a bad person. I am alone. I do not deserve to be loved ever again.

This is what I told myself and no one else at the time. And that is what I repeated to myself every now and again for many years thereafter whenever I experienced something that reminded me of that original experience. For instance, when I was 10 and in the fifth grade, our beloved principal, who looked and walked like a gracefully aging prima ballerina, uncharacteristically visited our class. She came to scold us. She warned us that no one was ever to say to anyone else the worst words that could be said. The words she banned in the classroom and forbade on the school yard were Shut-up! Shocked, I immediately flashed back to the night I shouted those very same words at my mother then never saw her again. I heard our principal say more, but I did not listen to her words. I was acknowledging to myself I was as bad as I thought. I was deeply ashamed. I felt I was sinking.

Eventually, I no longer remembered the words of my interpretations. But they already had set patterns of perception and behavior into motion that colored my entire life until I recalled them several decades later and challenged them kindly but firmly using my adult knowledge and experience. Nevertheless, the beliefs they fostered that I was horrid and unworthy of love and that spoken words can kill still emit silent sprouts that I continue to toil at uprooting.

This particular example may be unique, but the tendency to interpret experience is not. It is common-place for all of us, children and adults. And, in fact, it is our interpretation of what we experience that affects us more so than the experience itself (e.g., Chess and Thomas, 2005; Steiner, 1994). For children, interpretations are especially noteworthy. First, because children lack the knowledge, experience, and capacity to draw the measured conclusions an adult might. And Secondly, the conclusions children draw have far-reaching consequences for how they live their lives from then on. We need to take this into account when we arrange to have a child tested or enrolled in speech therapy. Children's generally unspoken interpretations of why they are having new experiences and what those experiences mean, what they have to do be successful in them, and how they need to be to be accepted and, thereby, survive all need to be seriously considered. While we may never exactly know their interpretations of testing or therapy experiences, we can be certain they are making them, e.g., Jason's Secret (Silverman, 2001). Therefore, to paraphrase Vin Diesel, the actor quoted at the start of this section,

Before we ask children to change,
Let's be sure to first teach them to love themselves just as they are.

If we do that, their self-worth will be based on who they are, not on what they do, how they do it, or what they have, and they will have a good chance to live genuinely happy, satisfying lives. If we teach them to love themselves, they will seek the best for themselves and strive to have it. If we teach them to love themselves, they will do all that is necessary to materialize the change they want, if and when they decide to change how they look, act, or think. And If we teach them to love themselves, they can love


" pentimento . . . a change of mind . . . a way of seeing and then seeing again." - - - Lillian Hellman, Playwright, Author (1973)

At some point in our lives, we may come to feel stuck. We find that although we have changed our jobs we experience the same relationships with co-workers and supervisors we detested before. We notice that even when we align with new partners we experience the same unpleasant "push-pull" relationship we had with so many others before. We join a different faith community only feeling the need to fend off fellow worshippers behaving as annoyingly intrusive as the ones in the faith community we left behind. And, despairingly, we may observe that our stuttering problem is no better or worse than it was years earlier despite our fervent desire and, occasional, intense efforts to rid ourselves of it. If we want to change what we experience, we come to realize, we will have to change at the most basic level.

During my undergraduate clinical training in stuttering problems, I encountered a woman with a stuttering problem who had achieved a certain notoriety at our university speech clinic. She, someone in her mid-30's who worked as a secretary in a large firm, had learned each of Van Riper's various stuttering control techniques. She would proudly demonstrate her mastery of their mechanics behind closed doors in treatment but nowhere else because, in her words, "They don't feel natural." Marcy, not her real name, showed that changing the mechanics of speech is not synonymous with personal change, although it can certainly lead to that.

Those of us with stuttering problems come to know changing how we talk then changing how we communicate can change our lives. And, as paradoxical as it first may seem, we sometimes choose to keep our lives just as they are even though doing so means continuing to experience the fear, shame, and embarrassment of stuttering we detest because, fundamentally, we are comfortable (e.g., Myss, 1998). Although our lives, like everyone else's, are not always pleasant, they are fairly predictable. We've got them under control, at least most of the time. And that is what so many of us crave, especially in these uncertain times. We want to know where we will be having breakfast today, what we'll be doing Sunday morning, where we will shop Friday after work, when we will be vacationing, and so on. If we change how we communicate, we will change how we live. We may change jobs. We may change relationships. We may change locales. The winds of change may transport us to a very different life gradually or swiftly. We can not be sure. That is why change requires courage and endurance, the courage to let go of the past to move into an uncertain future along an unknown path and the commitment to take the ride as far as it goes for as long as it takes. As long as we prefer the comfort of the known over the risk of the unknown, we will not sincerely work for the change we say we would like to have.

We will change, nevertheless. That is inevitable. We will become both more and less like we currently are. Our habits will grow stronger until our physical and, perhaps, our mental capacities will grow weaker. Our circumstances will change. Friends and loved ones will move away. Some will die. New people will become important. Work outside the home will change or end. We may develop hobbies that engage us. Nothing about us will stay the same except, perhaps, for a while, our perceptions of how our life is and should be. Until we change them, we will fundamentally live as we have until the very end (e.g., Byrne, 2006; Chess and Thomas, 2005; Hellman, 1973; Myss, 1998; Silverman, 2006; Steiner, 1994). Remember:

"A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers." - - - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-Reliance in Essays, Second Series (1847)


Byrne, R, Ed. (2006). The Secret. New York: Atria Books.

Chess, S. and Thomas, A., (2005). Temperament in Clinical Practice. New York: The Guilford Press.

Hellman, L. (1973). Pentimento. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Myss, C. (1998). Why People Don't Heal and How They Can. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Silverman, E.-M. (2006). "Mind Matters". Presented at the 9th Annual International ISAD Online Conference, October.

Silverman, E.-M., (2001). Jason's Secret. Indianapolis: 1st Books.

Steiner, C. (1994). Scripts People Live. New York: Grove/Atlantic Press.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2007.

June 2, 2007
Return to the opening page of the conference