About the presenter: Masuhiko Kawasaki in a member of the Japan Stuttering Project, Vice Chair-person of the Osaka Stuttering Project, Leader of a volunteer group for mentally challenged children and President of a company in Osaka. He writes, "I started stuttering before entering elementary school. For more than 30 years, I avoided situations that involved speaking. I also denied not only stuttering but also myself. However, my attitude towards stuttering has changed since I joined the JSP. Now I do not find the need to hide my stuttering. I feel free to challenge anything that I want. Stuttering no longer interferes with my life. Through my experience of getting involved with the activities of the JSP I discovered meaningfulness in my life and learned ways to live positively even with stuttering."

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Masuhiko Kawasaki before October 22, 2003.

What is the real role of self-help for people who stutter?

by Masuhiko Kawasaki
from Japan

On June 22nd, 2000, NHK, Japan's national TV broadcasting station, presented a nationally televised 30-minute program on our weekly seminar for people who stutter. This seminar has been managed by Japan Stuttering Project ( JSP ) for more than 30 years.

First, about myself, I started stuttering before I entered elementary school. My parents always told me, "Don't stutter." And they denounced stuttering so I felt that stuttering was a bad thing and that I, as someone who stuttered, was an inferior child. The symptoms of my stuttering were not very severe; I was always changing a difficult word that I wanted to say to a different word that I could say more easily. In this way, I was kind of deceiving myself. I denied my stuttering and kept hiding it. Also, I was always trying to avoid situations that involved self-introduction or speaking on the telephone.

About 17 years ago, when I was working at my father's company, the financial situation of the company became very bad. At that time, I believed that my stuttering was the cause of the company's poor financial situation. But then, one day, I realized that even if my stuttering were to disappear, the company's situation would still not change. At that moment, I realized that I had not been putting in my best effort to date, and that the reason for the company's poor situation was not my stuttering, but my lack of effort in performing my job. After that, I felt relieved. I began to work hard and the company's situation improved steadily. I became more and more confident about my job; however I still had a huge complex about talking.

About 11 years ago, I started studying social welfare and participating in volunteer work in my spare time. I also tried many forms of therapy, including psychotherapy. In one of the therapy sessions, I could express my feelings about my stuttering and I felt better. Until then, I could not express my emotional feelings. However, the result of the therapy only enhanced my negative feelings of stuttering. One day when I attended a different psychological workshop, I met Mr. Shinji Ito, the Executive Director of JSP. I talked to him about my stuttering and he listened to me in earnest. He told me that it was O.K. to avoid the situations in which I had to speak. He also told me not to feel guilty about avoiding these difficult situations. It was a big relief for me to hear those words. Then I attended a JSP seminar and I met many people who stutter. When I saw them, I had 2 different feelings at the same time. One feeling was that I did not want to be seen as one of them. The other feeling was that I envied them and I wanted to become like them because they seemed very happy and positive even if they stuttered a lot. They seemed to be at peace with themselves, while in my case, I was always struggling, trying to hide my stuttering. After that JSP seminar, I started to attend weekly JSP seminars that are held every Friday night, and within a few weeks, I became much more accepting of my stuttering. In addition, I began to realize that stuttering was a kind of gift. It allowed me to be more open-minded, and it provided motivation for me to study and learn more about things like psychotherapy, and human behavior. All in all, I think that stuttering has enhanced my development as a human being, and I feel that this has positively affected my business and my family life. And as a bonus, it has allowed me to become a part of a wonderful group of people, many of whom I consider to be very good friends.

At this time, I would like to touch upon the real role of self-help groups for people who stutter. First of all, a group whose only focus is the "treatment" of stuttering is, in our opinion, not really a self-help group. Rather, such a group is more like a clinic that tries to provide a medical cure. We believe that the role of a self-help group is to allow its members to support each other through speaking and listening. That's why self-help groups shouldn't denounce the disorder itself. And we, at JSP, do not denounce stuttering itself. We do not focus on fluency shaping, a reduction of symptoms nor the cure of stuttering. Some people may wonder why the cure or reduction of stuttering is wrong. We believe that if you focus only on the cure of the disorder, you may promote the idea that the disorder is a bad thing and you may feel that you should get rid of it. This creates a negative self-image. So we focus primarily on self-acceptance, striving to grow within ourselves, and learning to live well with stuttering.

Many people have many different disorders, problems, traumas, painful experiences and so on. If such disorders are easy to heal, those people will be O.K. However if they are difficult to cure with modern medical science, if those of them cannot be healed for many years, if you cannot do anything to deal with it, you may suffer alone. Then what can such a person do? If the person is worried alone, his worrying may go round in circles and he may sink in misery. At that time, if he meets other people who have similar experiences and he talks about his experience or his worries in his own words, and he is listened to attentively by them, he can explore another way of living.

What then really happens in the self-help groups? We all have various painful experiences. For example, we may not be able to say our name or be understood when we talk to other people. In the self-help group, by seeing one person talking about his painful experience and other people listening to him in earnest, you can feel you are O.K. to talk about yourself here. Then, after you have talked about your experience, the following things may happen.

  1. You may feel that a heavy weight has been lifted off your shoulder.
  2. You may be able to see yourself much more clearly.
  3. You may realize it's O.K. to be worried.
  4. You may feel like you are in the company of old friends, though you have only recently met these people.
  5. By sharing information, you can see your stuttering objectively.
  6. You can develop a new sense of values and you can create a positive lifestyle.
Here, let's think of 2 groups. One group thinks of their disorder negatively. The other group thinks of their disorder positively. In the first group, they may feel comfortable by talking and saying "We can understand your pain and sadness." However there is a risk that that group may enhance the negative feeling of the disorder. This is a limitation, even though they may feel comfortable. On the contrary, in the other group, by accepting their pain and weakness, they realize that they are O.K. even if they have feelings of depression and worry. By talking and sharing their feelings, they begin to create a positive self-image. By accepting themselves, they can get the energy to face real-life situations in society.

When a person starts to realize that it is O.K. for him to stutter, we, our self-help group, encourage him not to be afraid of interacting in society. We think, "To attain fluency and to build up confidence, the best way is to have a lot of opportunities to speak in every day life." When a person who stutters encounters problems and gets depressed, the members of the self-help group will listen to the person and think about the problems together.

Facing stuttering doesn't really mean dealing with the symptoms of stuttering. It means facing how the person is affected by stuttering. Many people allow the symptoms of stuttering to control or heavily influence their daily behavior. As a result, their attitude and their character becomes negative. Facing stuttering means realizing that the problem is not really stuttering itself, but how we react to it. Once we realize this, a big change begins from an interest in our stuttering to an interest in our life.

We, at JSP, are opposed to the idea that stuttering should be cured. So, then, some of the readers may be thinking that JSP makes no efforts toward overcoming stuttering. Well, we would disagree. We concentrate our efforts on learning to live well with stuttering, not to eliminate our stuttering or reduce symptoms of stuttering. Therefore our weekly seminar has the following 3 principles.

  1. To study basic information about stuttering. We learn the cause of stuttering and the effect and the limitations of therapies and treatments.
  2. To increase our ability to communicate with others. It is possible to communicate with other people cheerfully, even if you stutter. To increase the ability, we provide comprehensive training about talking, reading, listening and writing.
  3. To recognize ourselves and to create good human relationships. It is possible to improve our human relationships by understanding ourselves and other people. We learn how to make good human relationships by using Assertiveness Training, Transactional Analysis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
As I mentioned before, by having a realistic attitude to live well with stuttering, we can head for a positive way of living. If a person dreams about life without stuttering, or a person believes his/her life to be a failure, then it is impossible to establish even his identity.

A self-help group, like JSP, that emphasizes living positively with stuttering rather than trying to cure stuttering, has many universal values to offer the general public. 2 years ago, Mr. Shinji Ito published a book entitled, ³Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and Stuttering." Anybody can buy it at regular bookstores in Japan. This book shows the way of thinking of people who stutter, and how people who stutter live well with stuttering. I believe that the general public can learn a lot from the book.

Not only for a person who stutters, but for many people, the most important thing is a positive feeling about oneself. You are your own person. You are who you are. You are loved no matter what your situation is. Especially with children who stutter, as soon as we notice that a child is worried about his stuttering, we encourage him and tell him that it is O.K. to stutter and to stutter openly.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote from Mr. Shinji Ito, who, in the recent TV program said, "I want to ask people who stutter if they have something that they really want to say or anything that they feel they should speak about, other than about the symptoms of stuttering. After all, the most important thing is how we can enrich our lives."

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Masuhiko Kawasaki before October 22, 2003.

June 27, 2003