staff From STAFF, a newsletter from Aaron's Associates, September 1991, with permission of Janice Westbrook, editor

A Tribute to "Dr. Van"

by Dr. C. Woodruff Starkweather

No one has done more to help parents and children learn how to cope with stuttering than Dr. Charles Van Riper. For thousands, probably millions, of parents and children, he has banished the bogeymen from the bedroom closet, reducing their fear, softening their frustration, replacing helplessness with a sense of control, and filling their cup of uncertainty with knowledge. He has done these chings by teaching us, the clinicians.

He taught us to ask in each therapy session "What does the client need from me right now?" So every session is a diagnostic session. He taught us to listen to our clients in a way that was both open and accepting but also careful and analytic. "Listen: the answer to the mystery, the resolution of the paradox can be found in the client's words." He taught us to give help without creating dependency, to show stutterers that they already have control and can use it to master an errant tonguetip, a frozen jaw, a cramped glottis. Perhaps more than anything, and just by the inspiration of himself as a model, he taught us that therapy is an art. It is an art in which the clinician chooses from a pallette of intelligence, creativity, and love, and together with the client, using words as brush-strokes, they paint a dual self-portrait.

We, his students, have learned these lessons. We have listened carefully to our clients, and we have refined the cancellation and extended the pull-out into a global strategy for repairing stuttering behaviors and turning them into normal nonfluencies. And we have learned how to teach clients to listen to themselves in the same calm, accepting, and objective way that "Dr. Van" taught us to listen to them. And in this way we make infertile the soil in which the stuttering weed can reseed itself.

We have learned how to work effectively with very young children, as young as two, who are at risk for developing stuttering or who have just begun to stutter. By teaching parents skills for talking and listening to their children, by helping 1t1em deal with their feelings so that they react more normally when their child stutters, and by giving parents information about stuttering, we help them regain control over their children's fluency. We have learned also how to work directly with the preschool child, to shore up his self-esteem, support him in his moments of frustration, and take the bogeymen out of his closet. We can now prevent children from having a stuttering problem before they get into school. A child need not be one of the minority who fail to outgrow stuttering.

We have watched the master wield his brush, and we have picked up our own brush and painted many portraits, and we have repainted our own portrait each time.

added April 19, 2003