Vivian Sheehan passed away February 14, 2008, at her home in Santa Monica, California. Vivian was known for her pioneering work in the treatment of aphasia as well as her work in stuttering at the UCLA Speech Psychology Clinic with her late husband Joseph Sheehan, and later as director of the Sheehan Stuttering Center. She was an active and vibrant member of Division 4 since its inception. Vivian is survived by her 3 children (Marian, Joe and Kathy), and a wonderful group of grandchildren to whom she was devoted.
In the 2007 ISAD online conference, one of Vivian's daughters shared an interesting insight into what it was like to be Joe and Vivian Sheehan's daughter. Her paper
Sheehan Therapy as a Way of Life by Marian Sheehan, is online.
Vivian was part of a panel at the 1984 ASHA convention in memory of Joseph Sheehan. Her speech is available online in various formats
Listen with Real Audio (1.6MB)
Listen with Windows Media Player (3.1MB)
Quick Time or Real Audio (12.6MB)
Vivian published an E-Book, Easy Stuttering. The following summary reproduced below, is from the E-Book site:
This book is the product of more than fifty years of studying and treating stuttering and stutterers. It consists of articles and assignments in an order we have found effective and should not be used in any other order. Its worth depends on achieving successes with each assignment to overcome habits and attitudes that each stutterer has typically developed in his or her attempts to be fluent. Originally, in the clinic, the assignments contained in this book were weekly projects, but an individual going through this program on their own may take longer than a week to progress to the next assignment (but do not try to shorten the time required to complete each task). What is important is not the time it takes to complete an assignment, but how well you do it. This book expresses the ideas and concepts of its originator, Joseph (Joe) Sheehan, and most of the assignments were originally written by Joe. Joe had guidance from Charles Van Riper in developing his way of working with stutterers, but Joe went on to develop his own philosophy about how to overcome the problems of stuttering. Joe was a very severe stutterer who never gave up, found ways to help himself, and eventually became a professor at UCLA. He devoted his life and energy to helping other stutterers. Through the years of holding a clinic at UCLA, the assignments in this book were developed, used, reused, and modified as he saw ways to improve them. As a clinician and as his wife, I collaborated in running the clinic and then continued his work when his death came to soon for him to finish his mission. This compilation of Joe's thoughts, wishes, and urges to help others feels good to me as a way of bringing his mission to fruition and to bring some recognition to his genius. Our philosophy
and keynote ideas for therapy stress no direct attempt to be fluent. The quest for a sure way to be fluent only perpetuates continued disaster with no real change in attitudes and feelings, and no genuine hope for the future. Real fluency can only be earned through openness, acceptance of one's stuttering, and an honest attempt to give up avoidance of words, situations, and people, thus conquering the fear both of stuttering and of silence. Our therapy ideas differ so much from the usual attempts to train a stutterer to be fluent that it is difficult to explain, difficult to teach on paper, and hard to help the stutterer or clinician to accept the idea that success does not necessarily mean sounding fluent, but is experienced by not using tricks to avoid stuttering. It takes courage to continue to face stuttering openly without struggling to cover it up from oneself and from the listener. The best attitude is to accept stuttering and try to do it more easily and openly. This way will lead to more and more permanent fluency with easy communication.
No Words to Say is a video available from Amick Holzman Company and features the Sheehans.
The following tributes from several of her colleague and friends exemplify the impact she had on everyone. Additional tributes may be sent to Judy Kuster
I'm saddened at the news of Vivian's passing. I was fortunate enough to
spend quality time with her in 2001 when she visited the UK, and in 2002
at her home in Santa Monica. I also had the honour of visiting the Sheehan
Stuttering Centre and watching Vivian work there.
I greatly admired and respected Vivian for her years of service to people
who stutter and their families. Her career spanned decades and, like so
many dedicated individuals, the notion of retirement seemed to be
laughable to her. She sailed right past her retirement date and kept on
Vivian was a clinician like no other. She brought to her work a sound
technical understanding of stuttering and its treatment. Undoubtedly, it
helped that she was married to and worked closely with such an eminent
authority (Joseph Sheehan), but her formidable personal qualities marked
her out as a gifted professional in her own right.
As a psychologist, I was struck by Vivian's sound abilities as a
therapist. She demonstrated such a clear and rare empathy for her clients
and her ability to simultaneously challenge and support them was
impressive. The avoidance reduction therapy that Vivian purveyed demands much courage and determination on the part of the stutterer. It's a reflection of her genius that so many stutterers have immersed themselves in it so faithfully and with positive results.
People who stutter don't usually remark that they owe their lives to their therapist, but a good many have said as much about Vivian Sheehan.
When my son first started stuttering three years ago
(severely, gestural posturing, severity rating 10), my
husband, Lou, immediately picked up the phone and
called Vivian. Lou had been treated by Vivian in
1987-88 through her UCLA extension class, and was
ready to hop on a plane and take our son to see her.
Vivian helped my husband immensely as he came from a
very closeted family who never acknowledged his
stutter, so when he moved away from home to attend
college in L.A., he sought out the therapy on his own.
I'm forever thankful to her for his positive
experience, and how he, to this day, never lets his
fluency or lack of it hold him back, and has been a
great role model for our two kids who both stutter.
We did end up finding a local therapist. We're San
Francisco Bay Area, but Vivian spent time on the phone
with my husband, and even though she was retired, she
offered to help us anyway possible. Just that offer to
have someone on our side gave us the strength to push
In the late 80's I was fortunate to attend Vivian Sheehan's program at UCLA extension. It was the first time that I had ever taken action on my stuttering. I was 27. Our class was populated with a diverse bunch. Some had been with Vivian for a long time. Others, like myself, were new to this process. It is hard to qualify what happened during the two semesters I spent there; in fact it took a long time to even understand what the therapy was and the enormity of what I was going to confront.
Her approach to her "students" was too inclusive and personal to simply call her a teacher. This diminutive, firm lady applied a deft hand to all the people there, which resulted in noticeable change for all of us. For the people who were severe, she was able to give them their first toehold of fluency. For those, like myself, who were pros at hiding their stuttering, she gave us a forum and a place to drop the curtain and confront demons we had so intricately repressed. It was obvious within 2 or 3 classes that she was offering a commitment to all of us that would change our lives.
Sadly, I soon left the area and had to stop attending. Leaving her class was the hardest part of my departure. Real change and real progress is something hard to walk away from. When I think back on my choice to leave the area nearly 17 years ago, leaving Vivian's class is the only regret I still have.
Years later, now a parent, my wife and I discovered that our 3 yr. old son was showing signs of stuttering. One of the first things I did was pick up the phone and call Vivian. Even though it had 17 years and I was 400 miles away, she spent the time to talk me through some of the options I had before me. She didn't scoff at me when I considered getting on a plane and flying my son down to see her once a week. I regret not taking the one trip. Here she was, in her 80's, retired- yet still not hesitating to remember a student she spent 9 months with 17 years ago and opening herself up to help me again.
Every time someone asks me my name and I say, "Lou Weinert is my name", the memory of Vivian and the affect she had on my life will live on.
Vivian Sheehan was a wonderful person. She and her husband Joe changed my life. When I first met them 30 years ago I had some fluency and that was all that I worked for. Vivian and Joe introduced me to avoidance reduction therapy. I learned how to accept the stuttering but at the same time how to smoothly alter it with a easy prolonged slide. Vivian pushed me to make telephone calls where I would fill my speech with voluntary stuttering which reduced my urge to avoid my real stuttering. Most of all they taught me it was OK to stuttering and in doing so I would gain normal speech. Yes, I owe Vivian much more than I can express.
I am deeply sorry to learn that Vivian is no longer with us physically. However, the inspiration that she passed on to so many people will be with us always. I met Vivian in Hilton Head at the first SID4 conference and have since marveled at her stamina and devotion to helping the stuttering community. She was warm, open, kind, understanding. I will greatly miss her presence but will keep her in my fondest of memories.
Vivian Sheehan was a wonderful force in the stuttering world, full of vigor and creativity. It was she who invented the concept of a "slide" to ease through a stutter. She said she came up with it when she remembered the ease of sliding down the hill near her house in the snow, as a child in Michigan. I wish I could have been in one of her groups, watching how she worked. The next best thing for me was good talks with her about her therapy philosophy -- Be Open About Your Stuttering! In a memorial gesture I'd suggest rereading the wonderful chapter she wrote with her husband Joe: Avoidance-Reduction Therapy in WH Perkins
(Ed) Stuttering Disorders (1984). It is powerful stuff.
I'm sad to hear Vivian is no longer with us. A funny story: I met
Vivian only once--at the SID4 conference in Albuquerue when several from the group went to a nearby restaurant--and she mistook me for the waitress rather than one of the group. We shared a laugh together.
I have enjoyed spending many a conference with Vivian over the past ten to fifteen years. I am saddened by her passing. She understood stuttering well and was always generous in sharing her knowledge and perception.
Our first few conferences were with AAPPSPA (American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology). She was a long time supporter of private practice by speech clinicians, which in my mind showed an independence of thinking. She was not afraid to speak up, take a stand and work.
When you love what you do as Vivian did there is no such thing as stopping. She was a role model. May we all be blessed to love our work for as long as she did.
I attended Joe and Vivian Sheehan's "Speech Therapy for Stutterers" clinic/classes at UCLA in the late '60s to early '70s, and I met with Vivian privately for a limited time thereafter. She was so dedicated, so resolute and so effective. And she was a tough but wonderful lady. Hers was a no-nonsense approach. She had the wisdom to gently ask me to leave the clinic after a few years. I obviously was not working hard enough, and being about 40 at the time, was not a good model for the college-age kids. She and Joe were some team! I have such fond memories of them both.
Elizabeth Edwards - tribute delivered at Special Interest Division conference, Phoenix, AZ, June 2008
I am very fortunate to have known and worked with Vivian Sheehan. She was an amazingly talented woman. Vivian gave of her time and expertise to clients and professionals in and out the field, in order to help them advance in their careers and enhance their education.
NSA tribute to Vivian Sheehan, including an article by Bill Smith
Vivian was a mentor to me as well as others, in the fullest sense of the word; a trusted friend, teacher, and counselor.
Early in my career I worked at UCLA and learned of the Sheehan legends. Unfortunately by that time, Joe Sheehan had passed away and Vivian continued the legacy of the evening adult stuttering clinic, held on campus for 2 hours once a week from September until May.
The Sheehan method taught that fluency was earned. The person who stuttered learned the language of responsibility. Fundamentals such as:
These fundamentals and many others helped the person who stuttered understand that true fluency didn't just happen, it was earned.
- Keep good eye contact
- Don't avoid feared situations
- Be open about your speech
- Voluntarily stutter on non-feared words whenever possible
- Move forward with your speech
- Don't allow well intended listeners help you
This opportunity in the Sheehan clinic began my mentee experience. It extended itself for 12 years in two different clinical sites, and several NSA workshops. The last presentation we gave was in the early 2000's. We presented to 45 of my school district colleagues.
Vivian knew my best friends and my family. She was never shy to state her mind whether it was a clinical or personal matter. Vivian became my trusted friend, counselor, and at times second mother. She pushed me to inquire and excel.
As I continue in my practice, I do so with fond remembrances of a woman, who very much shaped the speech pathologist I am today. I am delighted by my place in life and thankful to those who have guided me to this service.
Vivian Sheehan 1917-2008, Summer 2008 issue of 'Speaking Out'- British Stammering Association
added March 1, 2008
last modified April 16, 2015