About the presenter: Ellen-Marie Silverman Ph.D has provided clinical services to numerous individuals with various needs in diverse service environments. She has been a member of several university faculties and founded and managed a staffing services company to provide temporary staff in occupational, physical, and speech therapy as well as captioning and interpreting services. Recently retired from clinical practice, Dr. Silverman continues to write on professional topics that especially interest her, namely the management of stuttering problems and the clinical formation of therapists. In 2009, she published a text, Mind Matters: Setting the Stage for Satisfactory Clinical Service. A Personal Essay and contributed the chapter, "Self-Reflection in Clinical Practice," to the textbook Therapeutic Processes for Communication Disorders edited by R. Fourie scheduled for publication by Psychology Press in 2010. She is the author of a novel about stuttering for children and parents, Jason's Secret, published in 2001. Currently, she is writing a book about applying mindfulness to stuttering. A Fellow of the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association she is a member of its Special Interest Division IV.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2010.

[Copyright Notice: The following is a copyright protected document, Copyright 2010 by Ellen-Marie Silverman. 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 (ellen-marie1@live.com). Permission is granted to read or print out a single copy for personal use. --- Ellen-Marie Silverman, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 31, 2010.]

For me personally, the number 13 often has signaled the end of various personal and professional relationships. This Conference, the 13th annual one and the 10th in which I have presented a paper, may well follow that trend. If it does, I will be saddened. But, hopefully, not for long because I have learned that when a relationship ends new vistas open, and participating in this Conference well may lead to other opportunities to share what I have learned about living well and joyfully. But I especially have enjoyed the sharing geared to our growth individually and collectively that has been encouraged by this friendly format nurtured by Prof. Judy Kuster, who has chaired all 13 Conferences. Thank you, Judy, for envisioning this engaging forum, working tirelessly to bring it to life, and inviting me to participate in it so freely.

And welcome! Thank you for taking the time to think about matters which influence our daily lives so intimately. I hope after you do you will add your voice to the themes addressed by posting a comment or question. And, please, consider reading the posts of others. Altogether, our voices declare Who We Are.


by Ellen-Marie Silverman
from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Is she kidding? She's her stuttering! How pathetic. If I read "My Stuttering is Me" as the title of someone's paper, those thoughts or ones similar to them might immediately come to mind, since I function somewhat judgmentally. But you may be curious instead, simply wondering what I might mean. So, let me assuage your interest by confiding that I do mean what I say in the title but possibly not in the way you initially may think. I believe it is possible to define ourselves much too narrowly to encourage our desired growth. And I believe we can take the action needed to speak more as we wish when we first acknowledge what it is that we do to interfere with that desire. Let me explain.


I have intermittently grappled with the question, "Who Am I?" not necessarily because I am a slow learner, although I may be, but because, as you know, this is a vast subject to comprehend. And not to be outdone in time spent within the category of ongoing contemplation has been my twin pre-occupation with finding the appropriate path through life. As you may suspect, all this existential, mental adventuring has been heavily colored by my feelings about speaking, as the following story suggests.

Imagine yourself, if you will, sitting quietly in a straight back chair with your eyes almost closed and asking, "Who am I?" You are addressing whatever or whomever you believe may be able to satisfactorily answer your question. You wait almost patiently for a time, then, just as you are about to end the seemingly futile exercise and go about your mundane activities, you hear the words spoken faintly by a non-descript voice in your head say, "A Stutterer." With a jolt arising from both disbelief and displeasure, you leap from your chair. Angrily, you refuse to accept this is all you are. You are an accountant, a parent, a deacon in your church. You garden, practice photography, paint in watercolor and oil. Neighbors come to you for advice. You advocate for the poor and displaced. You even have considered running for public office.

"A Stutterer? That's all I am to You?" you shout in outrage, posturing yourself to duke it out if need be. "A Stutterer?"

"No," retorts the same silent voice you heard before, "But that is Who You Think You Are."

I present this apocryphal story to reinforce two fairly widely-held truths:

  1. We retain, perhaps in our subconscious, a deep personal conception of who we are that is greater than we ordinarily acknowledge. That is why being seen as less than we know we are leads us to respond with some degree of anger or despair. And
  2. No one else, not even the wisest among us, can tell us who we are. That task is ours alone to discover. That is true whether we have or have had a stuttering problem or not, if our goal is to be happy and to live with ease (Hanh, 2005).
That some of us have stuttering problems and some of us never have or will in no way separates us fundamentally from one another. We all desire to be happy and live in peace. Whether we have a stuttering problem, play the piano, struggle to quit smoking or an addiction of some other kind, enjoy animal companionship, dislike physical exercise, cook with zest, fear change, orate with power and finesse, or exhibit other challenges, accomplishments, and tendencies, we are similar at our core. Taking responsibility for our beliefs and actions leads to increasingly recognize that is so.

Now, picture yourself opening a set of Russian nesting dolls. The outermost doll painted to represent a smiling peasant woman clad in a brightly colored, patterned dress covered with a gaily ornate blouse-like apron wearing a boldly patterned babushka, or head scarf. Twisting the head and upper torso apart from the rest of it reveals another similarly painted doll contained inside. Opening that one, you find another painted doll inside and so-on and so-on until you find a wee figure shaped like those which had surrounded it but lacking the surface detail that characterized them. This tiny object that you can grasp between your thumb and forefinger and painted red is far less revealing of what it may be than, say, an embryo.

As we work to discard the often colorful, false, and limiting notions of who we are that family, religion, culture, society, and our generation encourage us to adopt to be accepted (e.g., Berne, 1996), we increasingly resemble the nondescript doll nestled deep within the multiple painted caricatures. From that newness of being, we can begin to make informed choices and to acquire the experience and develop the skills to be as we wish. And, as we do so, we become increasingly refreshed, capable, and confident (e.g., Matthew, 16:25), as did Neo, the lead character in the movie, The Matrix.


Uncovering, then cultivating, our genuine self may take most of our adult life (Jung, 2004). Psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung recognized the process of applying insight to uncover and destabilize layers of conditioned thought and behavior we accumulate by adulthood is essentially an educational one (e.g., von Franz, 1964). While the founder of Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne (e.g., 1996) also committed to helping others discover their authentic selves, he emphasized action over insight. In fact, he told patients to " . . . change first, and we'll talk about why you behaved as you did later." (Woollams & Brown, 1979).

Those of us with stuttering problems often favor the approach suggested by Dr. Berne. We want to speak with greater ease as soon as possible. Tired of living as we have, dominated by anxious thoughts that coerce us to live as risk-free as possible, a stance that increasingly constricts our lives, we become eager for quick results. Long term commitment to personal growth, on the other hand, even if it provides the durable change we seek without exposing ourselves to the same degree of risk of being exploited, may seem unnecessary when all we want is to stop stuttering now. But, as usual, following the middle road brings the greatest satisfaction (Martin, 2005). By simultaneously addressing our speech needs along with our desire for fundamental change, we develop clearer views of ourselves, others, and the world and learn how best to act on them, and we speak and experience life more as we wish (e.g., Silverman, 2010; 2090).


Medical intuitive Caroline Myss (2009) and psychotherapist Thomas Moore (2010), among others, advise that the more clearly we see ourselves, the more deeply we understand our problems can not name us. We are so much more than our stuttering. Honoring that reality, we can choose to live expansively with curiosity and courage, or not. I, personally, have found the ancient practice of mindfulness, particularly the little-known one labeled shenpa (e.g., Chödrön, 2006; Silverman, 2005), especially helpful for learning to relate skillfully to my stuttering. Shenpa practice provides convincing motivation and useful skills to comfortably face, rather than resist, all aspects of stuttering including people and situations as well as various stuttering form-types themselves. In fact, a contemporary definition of mindfulness as ". . . the open heart" (Winston, 2010, p. 31) well describes what I am learning after more than 20 years of mindfulness practice. For when we come to open our heart to our triumphs and tragedies alike, we become fearless. We begin to comprehend who we are.


Who am I? Not my stuttering. That is certain. Like you, I am someone with traits, sensibilities, and a bevy of characteristics. Sometimes I stutter, and sometimes I trip, yet I keep going. As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke advised,

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final

In that way, I have learned that stuttering is something I can manage as I wish. It is no more me than my tendencies to overeat and limp. Who am I? Someone grateful to be exploring the great vastness of what I call Me.


I have chosen to address this critical topic recognizing who we believe we are fashions how we live. Take stuttering, for example; when we see ourselves capable and wise, we come to expect that we can learn to make helpful decisions and take useful actions to speak with increasing ease. If we see ourselves differently, perhaps, as fundamentally flawed, we despair that that is possible. We may easily draw down into a proverbial shell separating ourselves from others and our own true nature to live in fear rather than fully and with joy. The choice is ours. Fundamentally, we know this is true, but, occasionally, we require reminders this is so. So, the essential message here is that taking the time to know who we are at the deepest level of our being is the most practical gift we can give ourselves.


Berne, E. (1996). Games People Play. The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis. New York: Ballantine Books.

Chödrön, P. (2006). Getting Unstuck. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc. (CD).

Hanh, T. N. (2005). The Ultimate Dimension. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc. (CD set).

Jung, C. G. (2004). Matter of Heart: The Extraordinary Journey of C. G. Jung Into the Soul of Man. New York: Kino International Corporation. (DVD)

Martin, W. (2005). A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching as a Path to Living a Spiritual Life. Portland, Oregon: Marlowe & Company.

Moore, T. (2010). Care of the Soul in Medicine. Healing Guidance for Patients, Families, and the People who Care for Them. Carlsbad, California: Hay House.

Myss, C. (2009). The Mystical Approach to Healing Trauma. Sounds True,Holiday Catalogue, p. 17.

Silverman, E.-M. (2010). "Self-Reflection in Clinical Practice," pp., 280-295. In R. Fourie (Ed.), Therapeutic Procedures for Communication Disorders. London: Psychology Press.

Silverman, E.-M., (2009). Doing the Work. Paper Presented at the 12th Annual ISAD Online Conference, October.

Silverman, E.-M. (2005). Shenpa, Stuttering, and Me. Paper Presented at The 8th Annual ISAD Online Conference, October.

von Franz, M.-L. (1964). The Process of Individuation, pp. 158-230. In C.G. Jung, (Ed.), Man and His Symbols. New York: Doubleday.

Winston, D. (2010). "Saying Yes to an Open Heart," pp. 31-32. Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, Summer.

Woollams, S. & Brown, M. (1979). TA: The Total Handbook of Transactional Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2010.

SUBMITTED: June 14, 2010
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