About the presenters: Gerald (Jerry) F. Johnson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Jerry started his personal/professional career as a client and student of Dr. Van Riper's in 1953. Jerry was instrumental in establishing and administrating the program at UWSP where he worked for 29 years. His website is: http://hometown.aol.com/drgfj/JerryWeb.html and his email is: drgfj@aol.com

Eric ("the motivated teen") is presently an 8th grade student in public school. He is an honor student and is active in forensics and Taekwondo. In addition, Eric is a student leader. Eric also asks some very penetrating questions about stuttering in general and his own stuttering in particular. Eric's email is: GameShowGuy13@aol.com

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the authors before October 22, 2001.

Directed Self-Help Stuttering Therapy With A Motivated Teenage Boy, Predominantly By Email

by Gerald Johnson and Eric
from Wisconsin, USA

PRELIMINARY DISCUSSION: This definition of the Stuttering Beast helps to illustrate the complexity of stuttering and why stuttering is such a difficult disorder to analyze and treat: The Stuttering Beast, with its neurological, physiological, chemical, and genetic underpinnings, along with its negatively enhanced developmental, environmental, sociological, psychological, and behavioral components, and which manifests itself in negatively reinforced episodic stuttered speech and disordered language, becomes a powerful, self-reinforce habit, which becomes totally integrated into a person's life.

ERIC RESPONDS: My viewpoint on my personal stuttering is that it is a mental problem that can be aided by various speech helpers (ex: Stop and Go). I have found that stuttering occurs when one is constantly worrying about saying a word or phrase. This develops to the point where the person who stutters is focusing strictly on whether or not he will be able to say what he wants to, and failing to focus at all on how to develop his conversation. Dr. Johnson has shown me how to have a positive attitude and how to attach spontaneity to my speech. He has also given me speech helpers which have helped make my speech more fluent. Had it not been for Dr. Johnson, I highly doubt that I would have been able to be so successful at Forensics this year (I won a medal and various ribbons), in which I had to make a six-minute speech! I feel that I am in total control of stuttering and am capable of removing it from my life all together.

TEEN THERAPY: Finding a compatible way for a teen to accept therapy for stuttering is often more complex than the therapy. Here are a few suggestions for the achievement of this goal:

  1. Develop a "buddy" relationship with the SLP that is nonjudgmental and accepting and which might involve the teens vocabulary and language, that at times, might not be appropriate.
  2. Allow the teen to interpret the goals and strategies of therapy and to be able to select from the "plan" those ideas that "seem to make the most sense."
  3. Allow for imperfection and anticipate it. Help the teen learn how to tolerate imperfection in him/herself and others.
  4. Develop a holistic plan that includes teen problem solving of both related and seemingly unrelated concerns.
  5. Help the teen develop a buddy relationship with other adults in the school environment.
  6. Discover any hidden talents and promote them.
  7. The SLP might assist in arranging for academic tutoring if needed.
  8. The teens mental and physical health needs should be addressed.
  9. Develop self-awareness, tolerance, patience, and self-confidence. Build the teen's ego-power.
  10. Bring other teens into the therapy plan so it does not become a "secret" between just the SLP and the teen.
  11. Help the teen develop a reality check for his/her own behavior and that of others.
  12. Develop a feedback plan that utilizes email.
EMAIL: Most schools, libraries, and individuals have a computer and most people are trained enough in their use to cruise the Internet and correspond by email. A few suggestions for the use of email as an adjunct to therapy are:
  1. "Talking to a computer" facilitates the teen's ability to open up the dialogue. Sometimes face to face contact inhibits self-expression. Email has been characterized as being a more casual and spontaneous means of communication.
  2. Email allows for anytime transmission of happenings, ideas, thoughts, and spur of the moment needs.
  3. Sometimes editing of content prior to transmission is desirable and email allows for this.
  4. With portable devices any place emailing becomes a reality.
  5. Email allows both the sender and receiver to make a hardcopy for future reference or for immediate response and reflection.
  6. Responding to an email allows either party time to reflect upon its message and to respond with reasoned wisdom.
  7. Email can maximize the therapy time for both the teen and the SLP.
  8. Email might be a less expensive form of therapy contact.
  9. Email might be the final tool for teen initiated termination of therapy without having to confront the SLP.
  10. Email might actually facilitate a "buddy" relationship with the SLP.
  11. Email is/can be very personal and therapeutic.
  12. Just "pounding out" a message on a keyboard can be therapeutic.
  13. Email therapy is an "out of the box" suggestion with potential for the motivated, self-directed, risk-taking, intelligent teen.
PITFALLS WITH EMAIL THERAPY: Of course, email therapy is not the end-all and problems might arise.
  1. The teen might consider email to be a substitute for regularly scheduled contact with an SLP.
  2. Controlled and enhanced practice of symptomatic modification is not facilitated by email.
  3. Difficulty in stopping the emailing. When is enough enough?
  4. Email might not have the therapeutic power that face to face contact might have.
  5. Instant email exchanges might not be possible.
  6. The inherent email casualness might breed a degree a familiarity that could be detrimental to a therapeutic relationship.
  7. Email exchanges might not lend itself to a cookbook approach to therapy and some SLP's might not be equipped to deal with the spontaneity that email affords the teen.
ERIC RESPONDS: E-mail therapy works out perfectly for me because:
  1. It allows me to get help and reassurance in a comfortable setting free of peer pressure and discrimination.
  2. It is available 24 hours a day. I do not mean that I expect the therapist to be available 24 hours a day, but more that the opportunity to express my feelings positively is always at my disposal.
  3. Many schools only have speech therapy in correlation with a Special Ed program, which suits some people fine, but would be unable to serve me in the intelligent manner which I preserve. ( I have a 4.0 GPA).
  4. Because I feel I have more of a mental stuttering problem, it allows me to work with a person who views the problem as such. School speech therapists, in my opinion, think more in terms of people having physical problems than mental problems.
ILLUSTRATIVE EMAIL COMMENTARIES: To illustrate the tenor of the emails, we have pulled together a few edited emails from our early exchanges. Interestingly, our latest email exchanges were about fishing techniques! CONCLUSIONS (by Jerry): Eric has had his ups and downs with his stuttering--so, what else is new about the Stuttering Beast! I believe that Eric has relied upon email a little too much which has negated Eric's having direct contact with an SLP in his school. However, since this has been very much self-guided therapy, Eric has felt comfortable with this approach. I have been supportive of Eric's decision, while still gently prodding Eric to seek professional contact, even if it were on a sporadic basis. We continue to email back and forth and I feel that, for the time being, this is meeting Eric's needs. I have found Eric to be very intellectual and willing to share his emotional reactions to his stuttering.

In my opinion, here are a few self-help attributes (in addition to loving and supportive parents) for a teen which are necessary for change and for establishing a new and different persona for beating the Stuttering Beast: Patience, Persistence, Consistent Practice, Tolerance of Imperfection, Pride, Motivated Risk Taking, Intelligence, and just Plain Old Guts to get the Job Done. Beating the Stuttering Beast is a daunting task to say the least!

Eric is well on his way to achieving his personal comfort zone with life and the development of his self-help skills necessary for beating the Stuttering Beast.

The presenters offer the complete set of email exchanges to any interested person. In collated form they run more than 50 pages. The "at cost" cost is $10.00, prepaid, and can be ordered from Jerry at 474 Lake Bluff Lane, Grafton, WI, 53024.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: Judy Butler, CCC-SLP, author of (with Jackie Biagini) Making My Own Way: Empowering Children Who Stutter, and many articles in Reaching Out , the publication of Friends: The Association of Young People Who Stutter, for her keen observations and work with kids who stutter and her own contributions to the email process. Her email address is: jbutler@ncounty.net

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the authors before October 22, 2001.

July 20, 2001