TURNING ON TO THERAPY FOR TEENS
(The following is a brochure by the Stuttering Foundation of America,
reprinted from Do You Stutter: A Guide For Teens, publication no. 21.
TURNING ON TO THERAPY
by William H. Perkins, Ph.D.
WHY SHOULD YOU SEEK HELP?
There are at least two answers to this question. One is that you may
have to improve your speech to get what you want. This can involve
getting friends, getting grades, getting parts in plays, getting jobs,
getting promotions, getting respect--the list is endless. Another
more important answer is if your speech bothers you enough to want to
do something about it. A version of the same answer is if you want to
feel more accepting of yourself as a person. These together form the
best reason for seeking help because you will be doing it for
CAN THERAPY DO ANYTHING FOR YOU SELF-HELP CAN'T?
Self-help has a big plus. One is that even if you're working alone,
the fact that you are trying to help yourself shows your determination
to not let stuttering run your life. If you bring that much
determination to therapy, then your chances of success are VASTLY
BETTER than if you go to therapy hoping that the clinician will do
something to you or for you that will make life easier.
What therapy can do is to help you to help yourself. A clinician can
give you enough distance from your problems to get things into focus.
No matter how determined you are to improve, it will be unnecessarily
frustrating and slow if you don't know how to go about helping
yourself. The Speech Foundation has an excellent self-help book, but
it can't demonstrate some of the skills that will be useful to you.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SEEK HELP?
The longer you wait to start, the greater the pressure you will feel
to improve your speech. As big as those pressures may seem to you
now, they'll seem even bigger the closer you get to job hunting or
college. Don't wait until your last semester to start. Therapy is
not an overnight business. It takes time, especially for progress
that will stay with you. Although you can improve in a matter of
weeks, if not days, improvement can evaporate just as quickly as you
learned it. All you'll have left is fog if you don't practice
frequently and put what you've learned to the test on the tough words
and sounds, to say nothing of the tough situations you've tried to
avoid. Give yourself years, but at the very least months, if you
expect therapy to work.
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH AUNT BUFFIE'S AD?
The Aunt Buffies of the world are concerned and are trying to help.
If your Aunt Buffie thinks she's found help for you, remember that
she's probably on your side, but also remember that she's not likely
to know much about stuttering. So thank her for being interested and
tell her you'll check it out. Then you are free to investigate her
lead as thoroughly as you can, or want to. Who knows, she may have
done you a favor. Then again maybe she unearthed a quack.
CAN THERAPY CURE STUTTERING?
No one has found a cure for stuttering. If you hear of anyone who
claims a cure, steer clear. This does not mean that some do not
improve so much that they think of themselves as cured. When that
happens, though, it's the exception, not the rule. If you are
determined to cope with stuttering, you can improve your speech and
you can improve how you feel.
CAN YOU BELIEVE CLAIMS OF OVERNIGHT SUCCESS?
No. Probably not, at least as far as giving you answers to whether
you'll get the help you're looking for. The problem is in knowing
what the claims mean. Does 98 percent success mean cure, fluency
improved, feel better, or what? Many therapists could claim 100
percent success if every little improvement in fluency meant success.
But that improvement would be so small as to have no meaning.
Good therapists don't make such claims. If a clinician hesitates to
let you talk to anyone they've seen, or observe their therapy, or
steer you to just certain former clients, or use testimonials from
satisfied clients, or show a slick commercial example of their
success, you should be cautious. They may advertise, but the better
they are, the more discrete their advertising is likely to be. Good
clinicians have nothing to hide. They're open for inspection.
DID YOU TRY THERAPY AND IT DIDN'T WORK?
If you've had therapy before and it didn't help, you're probably
convinced it won't help. Worse, you may be feeling guilty because you
think it's your fault that therapy didn't work. Maybe you're also
scared you'll never outgrow it. You're probably right. If you're
waiting and hoping it will eventually go away, the risk is that you're
waiting in vain. (This of course does not apply to young children).
Don't despair. There is hope. For one thing, the clinician you had
may not have specialized in stuttering. Many therapists don't know
enough about it to be of much help, but there are specialists
available. Read on.
The fact is that many who are helped most were sure there was no hope.
If you have doubts, but still are willing to try, talk to people who
have been through different therapy programs. Good clinicians can put
you in touch with most of the people they've seen. See for yourself
how their speech sounds, as well as how they feel about it and
themselves. Find out how much help they feel they got. Their outcome
won't guarantee your outcome, but they will give you a clue as to what
ARE YOU AFRAID TO GIVE THERAPY YOUR BEST EFFORT?
Nothing is quite so frightening as having to confront a moment of
truth. What's scary about giving your best effort is the prospect
that it might not be good enough. You might fail. If that's as far
as you let yourself think, if you only look ahead as far as the
possibility of failure, then fear will paralyze you. Try going beyond
the failure, though, and see what happens. Let yourself think about
failure in its grossest form. Turn it over in your mind. Play with
it. Make it as bad as you can make it, then play each failure
scenario out as far as you can take it. When you put failure in
perspective, it doesn't make it pleasant but is does make it bearable.
Most important, it makes it possible to give your best effort, and
increases the chance of that effort succeeding.
IS 30 MINUTES A WEEK ENOUGH?
In the best of all possible worlds, no. Especially if you are just
beginning therapy. Until you've made substantial progress, 30 minutes
a week, even an hour a week, is like going to the movies and seeing
nothing but previews. Momentum helps and it's tough to get it even
with a couple of hours a week. Still, if you can only get an hour or
so a week, progress will be slow but it is possible. Later on, when
you know what you're about and are moving out on your own, brief
weekly sessions can be particularly useful.
HOW DO YOU FIND HELP?
Before you go shopping for therapy, work out a shopping list. Do some
reading about stuttering and the various therapies that have been
developed for it. The Speech Foundation is a non-profit organization
that specializes in help for people who stutter. They have
publications containing the information you need for your shopping
HOW DO YOU FIND A THERAPIST YOU'LL LIKE?
Therapists help people who stutter several different ways. No single
therapy or therapist is right for everyone. Finding the right
therapist who can give you the help you want as well as the help you
need is as difficult as finding the right girl friend or boy friend.
Don't despair, though, it is possible.
The Speech Foundation can steer you to specialized help, but you'll
have to decide if the therapist is for you. The only way you'll find
out is to give whoever it is a try. First impressions aren't always
right, but if you have strong objections, this therapist may just be
wrong for you. If you've done your homework and prepared your
shopping list (see "How do you find help?") you'll probably have a
number of questions you'll want to discuss in those first sessions.
Finding the right clinician to help you isn't like finding a mechanic
for your car or a surgeon for your appendix. Skill and knowledge
alone aren't enough. Until you find a therapist who is both skilled
and really cares about you, keep shopping.