(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 dollar industry. 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 particular model. 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 of living. 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. Why not? 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 Physiological Responses Behaviors x x Intentions x x Emotions x x Beliefs Perceptions (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 ideas. 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: (Temple University), (Arizona State University) and (Western Illinois University). To become a subscriber, you must register on the listserv directly (e.g.: to log onto STUTT-L, address your e-mail to and enter the message sub stutt-l ). To find a local chapter of National Stuttering Project 5100 East La Palma Ave. Suite 208 Anaheim Hills, CA 92807 800-364-1677 FAX 714-693-7554 Speak Easy 233 Concord Drive Paramus, NJ 07652 201-262-0895. 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.