Stuttering Therapy From Dr. Charles Van Riper, Spring Semester, 1952

by Gretchen Guck Fifer
from South Carolina, USA

46 years ago I made my way to the fulfillment of my life. Thanks to Dr. Myers, my chemistry teacher, I entered my new life, redeemed by Dr. Van.

In my previous life I thought I was so great I could hide my disfluencies from others. How ingenious I was in avoiding situations and words, and other distressing situations! I guess I really knew what was wrong with me early on, but I have no idea when this realization came about. Perhaps, I had suffered unconsciously through this life of hell for 16 years at this time.

I sat in Dr. Van's office while he so adroitly interviewed me. He was dealing in my perceptions and I was dealing with realities as I saw them -- denial. Denial, DENIAL.

In retrospect, I think I never really admitted this stuttering, even then. I could sabotage a therapy assignment better than anyone could, close my eyes to reality and live in a blissful world.

Now came the cold, cruel world in which I was to live, not for this one semester, but for the rest of my life.

The therapy basics consisted of three hours every weekday afternoon. First was the closed session with Dr. Van or someone else as the moderator, with all of us reporting on our assignments from the day before. Sometimes we had demos, guests, and other interesting past students joining us. Always, in this session the next steps or sub-steps were presented and discussed The second session was with our individual clinicians and we would often go out in the community to practice the skills being taught, and the third hour was the reporting time and the new assignment time. How well I remember those thin sheets of copy paper with about 4-6 different things to do! How I hated exposing myself to these realities -- inside myself was such a warm and cozy place to be.

Most of the other members of the group were persons who came from all over the country just for therapy and they held jobs at various establishments in Kalamazoo. A couple of us were full time students, carrying a minimal class load and living in the dorm. Most were men, of course. I think there were two other women besides me.

Step by step, I came face to face with the way I talked and felt about talking. It was a hard journey, fraught with more denial, detachment from myself as well as from reality. My biggest demon was fluency. I had too much of it to really be able to accept stuttering when it occurred. Stuttering occurred much more frequently than I cared to admit, and when it did, it was a situation of struggle and grotesque attempts to initiate vocalization. It was a nightmare in reality, a hideous sight as I came to realize. How can you talk if you are holding your breath, have no placement, and using non-vocal attempts? I didn't know I was doing those things.

Through Dr. Van's guidance and the help of my wonderful clinician, Libby, I was able to reach a clearer understanding of what I was doing and how I could change.

Each year Dr. Van, according to my readings and recollection, modified his approach, based on the success rate of the previous method. The steps I remember so clearly were: identification, desensitization, modification, and the last one in which I still live, stabilization. I still go back to the modification stage as well. This is an ongoing way of life, even today, at age 67.

And, for all of this, I will be eternally grateful.

July 30, 1999