DO YOU SUFFER FROM PARADIGM PARALYSIS?
(This is the text of a presentation made by John C. Harrison, Program
Director of the National Stuttering Project, at the First World Congress on
Fluency Disorders. The Congress was sponsored by the International
Fluency Association and held in Munich, Germany on August 1-5, 1994)
John C. Harrison
Program Director, National Stuttering Project
In the late 1940s a man walked into a laboratory of a major photographic
manufacturer in America to demonstrate a new photographic process. But
he didn't bring along a camera or film. He brought along a red box with a
shiny steel plate, a charging device, a light bulb and a container of black
powder. The picture he created was faint but discernible.
"But where's the film?" they asked. "Where's the developer? Where's the
darkroom? Why, that's not really photography!" And so the company
passed up an opportunity to acquire the process for electrostatic
photography, or xerography...a process that has grown into a multi-billion
Why did they pass up such a great opportunity? Because the people who
saw the process were suffering from PARADIGM PARALYSIS.
What is paradigm paralysis? Or more basically, what is a paradigm?
As you probably know, a paradigm is a model or a pattern. It's a shared
set of assumptions that have to do with how we perceive the world.
Paradigms are very helpful because they allow us to develop expectations
about what will probably occur based on these assumptions. But when
data falls outside our paradigm, we find it hard to see and accept. This is
called the PARADIGM EFFECT. And when the paradigm effect is so strong
that we are prevented from actually seeing what is under our very noses,
we are said to be suffering from paradigm paralysis.
That's where I think many of us have been stuck when it comes to figuring
out how to treat stuttering. We rigidly follow a cognitive approach. Or a
behavioral approach. Or a psychotherapeutic approach. And our paradigm
paralysis causes us to exclude valuable information that doesn't fit our
But if what I have come to believe about stuttering is true, we already
know what we need to know. We just need to draw this information
together into a paradigm that integrates these many different approaches.
However, to do this, I propose that the professionals need the cooperation
and collaboration of the stuttering self-help community.
Why do I say this?
In his book "Paradigms: the Business of Discovering the Future" Joel Barker
describes how the person who develops a new paradigm is often an
outsider. Someone who really doesn't understand the prevailing paradigm
in all its subtleties...and sometimes doesn't understand it at all. The
PARADIGM SHIFTER, because he or she is not imbued with the prevailing
beliefs, is able to see the situation with a fresh eye.
This describes some of us in the stuttering self-help community. Because
we did not train as speech-language pathologists, we were not formally
programmed in the classic ideas about stuttering. Many of us, of course,
did acquire the traditional points of view through involvement in speech
therapy. But there are others who have made meaningful discoveries
through independent study and observation...and just through the process
But are these discoveries with worth paying attention to? After all, we're
not trained in speech pathology. We don't have Ph.D.'s What can we know
that would really be of use to the professional community?
OBSERVING WITH AN OPEN MIND
As Eastern philosophers will tell you, one can arrive at major truths simply
by observing. I'm reminded of something that Margaret Mead, the
anthropologist, wrote some years ago...and I'm paraphrasing now. She
said--there's a tendency among people in her field to be too quick to relate
what they see to what they already know. But to really make the creative
breakthroughs, you can't work this way. You need to observe with a blank
mind. Without expectations.
You need to sit in the native village and simply observe...and watch...and
observe. At some point you notice that these behaviors over here have
something to do with those behaviors over there. Hmmm. What is that
relationship? I'm not sure. I think I'll watch some more. And so you
watch some more. Now, it may be that you are watching the expected
mores and rituals. But maybe not. Maybe it's something completely new.
That's the kind of observing that can lead to a new paradigm.
I'll give you a small example of what I'm talking about. I used to buy my
gasoline at a service station near my home, and every time I drove in, it
was my intention to say, "fill it up" without either blocking or resorting to
any tricks or techniques to avoid blocking. Some days I could do this, and
other days, I couldn't. I wondered why. So I began to relate what was
going on in my life to my ability to speak.
What I discovered was that on days when I was getting along well with my
wife, I would have less difficulty in saying "fill it up." But on days when
we weren't getting along, when I was feel angry and resentful and holding
back my feelings, I had great difficulty saying the words without resorting
to tricks and starter devices, such as "Yeah, can you fill it up."
I'm not saying that my stuttering was caused by emotional problems. But I
did begin to see some of the subtler ways in which emotions played into
the stuttering system. And that was not something I was likely to have
explored in quite this way were I involved in traditional speech therapy.
It's because speech-language pathologists are generally trained to work
within a paradigm that calls for focusing attention only on speech and only
those emotions that are closely tied to stressful speaking situations, while
those who stutter are not used to looking beyond their stuttering for many
of their own answers.
AN UNTAPPED RESOURCE
Over my 18 years in the National Stuttering Project, among the hundreds
and hundreds of people I've gotten to know, I have met a small but
significant group who have, like myself, recovered from stuttering. Many
of us have recovered by following different paths. One fellow I met in the
early 80s took the thinking and philosophy learned in the martial arts and
applied it successfully to his speech.
As for myself, because I lived in California during the 60s and 70s, I had
the opportunity to participate in many of the unique programs of personal
growth that developed during that time. These were programs that never
existed before...for anyone!...let alone for someone who stuttered. They
were programs that didn't exist in the time of Johnson and Sheehan and
Van Riper. And they provided me with a unique vantage point to
understand the more hidden dynamics that fueled my speech blocks.
Although my martial arts acquaintance and I pursued different routes to
fluency, if you listen to our stories, you'll find many commonalities. As
such, we represent a vast and knowledgeable pool of information just
waiting to be tapped by the professional community. Yet, we are seldom
referenced this way. For example, I stuttered for 30 years. And for over
20 years I've been completely recovered. By recovered, I don't mean that
I'm a controlled stutter. I mean that the thoughts, feelings and behaviors
that I used to have about speech I no longer have. Yet how many speech
pathologists have said, "Gee, John, that's really interesting. I'd like to
explore with you in detail how you did it."
The answer is zero. Not one.
A NEW PARADIGM FOR STUTTERING
Had they asked, I would have introduced them to a paradigm for stuttering
that emerged from my own life experience. I have come to understand
stuttering, not simply as a speech problem, but as a system involving the
entire person--an interactive system that's comprised of at least six
essential components: behaviors, emotions, perceptions, beliefs, intentions
and physiological responses. This system can be visualized as a six-sided
figure--in effect, a Stuttering Hexagon--in which each point of the Hexagon
affects and is affected by all the other points. It is the dynamic moment-
by-moment interaction of these six components that maintains the
system's homeostatic balance.
THE STUTTERING HEXAGON
Intentions x x Emotions
(NOTE: To complete this diagram, draw lines connecting the points so that
EACH point is connected to ALL OTHER points. ((i.e.: Emotions will have 5
lines radiating out from it to Behaviors, Physiological Responses, Intentions,
Beliefs, and Perceptions.)) Repeat--when you are done, each point will be
connected to all other points.)
I find the Hexagon a useful concept because it resolves the question of
whether a speech block is emotional or physical or genetic or
environmental. As you can see by this paradigm, the blocking behavior is
not an either/or issue, but rather, a system that involves the constant
interaction of all these factors. Each point can exert either a negative or
positive force on the other points. Thus, in a system where most of the
points are negatively biased, there is little likelihood that gains in fluency
or ease of self-expression will be lasting, while if the person has made
gains all around the Hexagon, then it will be supportive of greater fluency
Unfortunately, many therapy programs adopt a strategy in which the focus
is almost entirely on changing the person's speech and not much else.
OPENING UP COMMUNICATIONS
Why hasn't the professional community made a greater effort to
communicate with the self-help world? Up to now, there have not been
easy ways for us to talk to each other. But this situation is changing, and
one dramatic change is the emergence of the Internet, the powerful new
world-wide communications highway. Thanks to people like Woody
Starkweather who has run the Stutt-L forum at Temple University for over
five years (and Don Mowrer and Bob Quesal who run similar Internet
forums at Arizona State University and Western Illinois University
respectively), there are now hundreds people from the professional and
stuttering world in countries all over the globe who have instant access to
each others minds, ideas and experiences. This interchange is one of the
best hedges that you as professionals can have against the inbreeding of
Have a question about stuttering? Are you toying with a new therapy
approach? Are you a researcher exploring a new theory? Talk about it on
the Internet, and see what the stuttering community has to say. Or just
read the conversations and debates that flow back and forth. That's one of
the best ways to train your intuition about how to approach the problem.
Another way you might sharpen your abilities is to attend a meeting or
two (or ten or twenty) of a chapter of one of the self-help organizations
like the National Stuttering Project or Speak Easy. This will give you an
even greater opportunity to understand the issues faced by the stuttering
community and perhaps broaden the stuttering paradigm that shapes your
clinical skills. Remember this--if your clients are primarily children, every
adult at a self-help chapter was once a stuttering child, and he or she can
give you insights and feedback that can be invaluable in your work.
Today, many pieces to the puzzle have already fallen into place. But until
recently, there were aspects to stuttering that couldn't be explored,
because the venues to make these discoveries were not available. But with
the opportunities available today I believe we can add those missing
pieces. Through collaboration between the professional and stuttering
communities, we are now in a position to develop the insights and broad
new paradigms that can give us the answers we're looking for.
The Internet addresses for the three forums (listservs) on stuttering are:
email@example.com (Temple University), firstname.lastname@example.org
(Arizona State University) and email@example.com (Western Illinois
To become a subscriber, you must register on the listserv directly (e.g.: to
log onto STUTT-L, address your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and
enter the message sub stutt-l ).
To find a local chapter of
National Stuttering Project
5100 East La Palma Ave.
Anaheim Hills, CA
233 Concord Drive
Paramus, NJ 07652
For a copy of "Developing a New Paradigm for Stuttering", a 23-page paper
that discusses the Stuttering Hexagon in greater detail, send $3.00 to cover
photocopying and mailing to John C. Harrison, 3748 22nd Street, San
Francisco, CA 94114, USA.