About the presenter: Marjorie Rosenthal Foer received her B.A., from the University of California, Santa Barbara, 1978; her M.A., from Case Western Reserve University, 1983; and her C.A.S. in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University, 1990. She attended the "Stuttering Therapy Workshop for Specialists", Northwestern University, 1990 and became a Board Certified Fluency Specialist, 2001. Marjorie studies various alternative treatment methods, such as Reiki, and is certified in the "Soul-Directed Approach to Therapy". She and her husband went skydiving for their 10th anniversary in June. She has her own private practice and loves her five year old son Sam and her husband, Gordon.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Marjorie Foer before October 22, 2002.

Working From The Inside Out: A "Soul-Directed" Approach To Stuttering Therapy

by Marjorie Foer
from Rhode Island, USA

Mark Twain once said, "One learns through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect." This "learning through the heart" has been called many names, including our Inner Guidance System, our Inner Wisdom, our Personal Truth, our Higher Self. A medical doctor from England, Christine Page, uses what she calls a "Soul Directed Approach" for healing. Probably the most common label is simply "Intuition." Intuition resides within all of us, and it is a very powerful guide that is usually ignored, misunderstood and even criticized. But when intuition is heeded, it typically feels expansive and light. And when we ignore our Intuition, we may sense Feelings of tightness or anxiety in different places in the body, or Feel as if we are not our True Self.

This paper will look at the role of "Intuition" as it relates to working with people who stutter.

There are times when all speakers carefully choose words. At these times we can feel our energy shift to our conscious mind. This way of speaking is not an efficient way to speak. It takes too much energy from the body to efficiently maintain the conscious behavior. People who do not stutter usually "hyper" focus on their word choices at very specific times.

From my perspective, People Who Stutter (PWS) teach themselves to speak primarily in a hyper-focused, conscious way. There is a Belief that speech will be blocked, and a Feeling of fear associated with blocking Humans respond to fear with Fight, Flight or Play Dead (or Dumb). PWS Fight the fear with consciously produced speech, trying to rush or force words out. PWS Flee when they avoid words, sounds and situations. They Play Dumb by giving incorrect answers, or no answer in an effort to avoid certain words or sounds or Feelings. When blocks, hesitations, repetitions, anticipations and avoidance Behaviors start, the conscious mind becomes aware that something is out of balance and tries to come to the rescue. The conscious mind Believes that because it can think, reason and use language, that it must take control of talking. It therefore overrides the unconscious mind. The conscious mind wins because the unconscious mind doesn't really know how to "speak up for itself"; it is basically a silent partner in the communication business.

Here are some other familiar convictions held in the Belief System: "I am a stutterer", "I will stutter on 'L', 'B', my name, etc.", "I am no good because I stutter, and even worse since I am in therapy and can't stop stuttering". When Beliefs are this strong, it is difficult to Believe an opposing message. Especially, when one is validated and diagnosed as a "stutterer". When Beliefs are entrenched, the Beliefs can determine one's choices, such as how one Perceives oneself and others and how one Intends to act in the moment. When the PWS Perceives him or herself as a stutterer, it can become such a predominant Perception, that there may be little room for other aspects of the Self. When one's Perception of Self is limited to "how lousy I am at talking", that is a very powerful and damaging Perception. In addition, the Perceptions of others are like a virus. So, if I Perceives myself as having a mild stutter, but I realize that the listeners are focusing on how I am talking rather than on what I am saying, I will also focus on how I talk. My Perceptual Radar reads their concerns and I try to improve my speech using consciously controlled speech. My focus on improving my speech and failing with this approach, validates that I am a confirmed stutterer. Then my Perception of my stuttering changes from mild to moderate or severe, just because I Believe my stuttering is that way. My Perception of my self and my speech is distorted, but I work toward making my reality match my Belief that I am a severe stutterer..

You can bet that with my Belief System telling me that "I am a stutterer", my Perceptual System telling me that "I stutter, therefore I am" and my Intentions to speak fluently constantly backfiring on me, that my Emotions will be working overtime. The typical Feelings associated with stuttering include: fear, embarrassment, shame, guilt, anger, pain, frustration, hate, worthlessness, and depression. Unfortunately, most PWS learn to bury these Feelings, or at least minimize them so that they can carry on with day to day life. Feelings emanate from the heart. When Feelings are ignored, or set aside, the entire Human System can be stalled, or disengaged from life. Clearly, Feelings are a vital part of our Human Machinery and they need to be acknowledged and respected. They are the messenger telling us who we truly are and what we need, and we all know not to shoot the messenger. Feelings are also an important link to our Intuition.

Intuition is one's personal Truth. The stuttering Behaviors (blocks, eye blinks, breath changes, etc.) are all counter-Intuitive to natural speech production, but they are the most recognizable part of the Stuttering System. Intuition says Relax! But once a PWS hears that, they may start to tense up, feel hot or get that tight feeling in their throat or stomach. Those reactions are the Physiological Responses to the Behaviors of stuttering. Why isn't Intuition working? Because it hasn't been trusted for a while, so the other components of the System overpower Intuition, and keep the Stuttering System in a state of equilibrium.

The words in bold highlight the seven components of the "Stuttering Web" which I believe create and maintain the Stuttering System. John Harrison first conceptualized the "Stuttering Hexagon" as presented below. I added Intuition to the model, and placed it in the center, where the six Hexagon elements intersect. John recognized the "Higher Self" as essential for dissolving his stuttering, but he did not include it on the Web. To me, Intuition is a vital part of being human, and an essential element for creating and maintaining anything in equilibrium.

John Harrison is one of my heroes. He figured out what made him stutter, and successfully "dissolved his stuttering", as he likes to say. John conceived the Stuttering System as a habit that needed to be observed, dissected, analyzed, and dissolved. He believed that once the components of the System were understood, the System could be disarmed. John believed this because he knew something deep down in his bones. John knew that he had created his Stuttering System and therefore it was something that he could just as likely stop.

Have you (therapist) ever tried to change a Behavior of yours that you didn't like? The Behavior may be eating, smoking, exercising, relationship management, gambling, personal financial management, or even how fast you drive. Were you successful? How did you go about making this change? Einstein said "No problem was ever solved in the same consciousness with which it was created." Therefore, to effect change, the PWS must move to another state of consciousness or Perspective. To make a personal change, one must understand what created the undesired Behavior in the first place. Then one Intentionally untangles the unconscious Web of Behaviors associated with that one problem

When a PWS seeks a speech-language pathologist for assistance, that person is seeking change. The client typically focuses on changing the way they talk, after all, it seems that that's the problem. After a few Pieces of a puzzle start to float into place and a picture of the person starts to come into focus. The client not only has difficulty speaking, the client has fears about speaking. This person also expresses other Feelings, mentioned above. When asked what the PWS does with these Feelings, an early response is typically, "I don't know, stuff them somewhere I suppose."

In my private practice, I use an interview process that I developed based on the seven elements in the Stuttering Web. The interview procedure helps me and my client understand how my client's stuttering components play roles and maintain their homeostasis in my client's life.

The interview format is typically used as a guide. The questions are reformulated and personalized as the interview progresses. For example, when my 16 year old client revealed that he knew (Belief) that he would have a hard time answering questions in class, I tailored the follow up questions to find out more about his Intentions, Emotions, Perceptions, Physiological Responses, Behaviors and Intuition for that situation. He and I saw a pattern as he explained that these intrinsic elements manifested themselves in similar ways when he had to make a phone call, make small talk with less familiar people or meet new people with whom he will continue to develop a relationship. It became clear to him that stuttering was much more complex than the typical difficulties with his speech Behaviors. Speech Behaviors may be the most visible and measurable sign of stuttering. Changing the speech Behavior, however, is not necessarily how to help the client transform how they Perceive and Feel about themselves and others.

During the interview, I find out what the client expects therapy to be like, what they believe the outcomes will be, and who they believe is the primary person responsible for making the changes. If the client has stated that s/he can speak easily when alone, or when speaking to animals, children, or when acting, etc., I explain that I will not be teaching a new way of talking (stuttering modification or fluency enhancing strategies), because s/he has revealed that natural fluency already exists within them. Our job, in therapy, is to discover how to allow that natural fluency to surface, and to reclaim it as their primary way of talking. I show the client the Stuttering Web and how the components interact to keep the Stuttering System alive. The client begins to Perceive stuttering as something that is theirs to study, own and dissolve. They understand why the therapist cannot be the FIXER, and why they have to take full responsibility for change. This all happens in the first session.

This interview and discovery process is repeated as the therapy sessions continue. I usually start each session with an update interview to see how homework is going. The discovery process might happen during a discussion session or during a guided imagery session. We start the guided imagery by closing eyes and taking deep breaths. I may offer a choice of two, or suggest one type of journey that is designed to help my client discover more about their Stuttering System. We go on journeys inside the body and talk to the seven components of the Web, we journey to distant planets via these guided images and find Inner Wisdom and courage that has been buried for years. We travel to the places and people who present personal challenges, but only through the work of the mind, body and soul. When the client journeys using guided imagery, they speak through the unconscious mind, and their words flow. They reclaim their true speaking abilities and connect with their Perceptions, Beliefs, Feelings, Intuitive sense, Intentions and Physiological Responses.

My clients are not expected to perform for me and complete human contact assignments such as ordering, talking to strangers, etc. until they are personally motivated to overcome a specific fear that has become clear to them.When they come to that crossroad, they practice talking aloud, alone, or in a guided journey. They envision success with the target situation, just as athletes are trained to picture the outcome of a play. Michael Retzinger (Retz) taught me about the power of self talk, having the client talk out loud, alone. This simple assignment leads the PWS to rediscover their natural fluency. From there, the Belief system can be reprogrammed, Perceptions begin to change, and all of the other components are primed to follow suit.

Gradually, tightly knotted strands of judgment regarding the Self, stuttering and what it means to the client start to loosen and unravel. New Perceptions about how stuttering is a gift from the Universe to learn about the Self start to come into focus and the primary goal to eliminate stuttering begins to wane. The new goal is to be true to the Self. This allows the client to "take their focus off of their speech"(Retz). When the unconscious mind resumes its rightful place, speech begins to flow naturally.

The clients I work with change from the inside-out, by learning about their Stuttering System. As John Harrison explained in his book, How to Conquer Your Fears of Speaking Before People, a complete public speaking program plus a new way to look at stuttering (my bible), he disarmed his Stuttering System (the inside) long before the Speech Behaviors (the outside) associated with stuttering disappeared. My clients learn how to discover their natural fluency through a method of "not trying"(i.e., using unconscious mind, Trust). Instead of trying to master speaking by controlling speech and changing it, they master it by not trying to control it and not trying to change it. It's a process that my clients are learning, and I am honored to journey with them as they unravel their Stuttering Web.


Harrison, J., (2000). How to Conquer your Fears of Speaking Before People, a complete public speaking program plus a new way to look at stuttering. Anaheim Hills, CA: National Stuttering Association.

Keyes, K. Jr., (1984). Handbook To Higher Consciousness. Publishers Group West, 5th ed.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Majorie Foer before October 22, 2002.

September 1, 2002