Joseph Sheehan believed stuttering to be, in part, what he referred to as a "false role" disorder, believing that stuttering has a lot to do with how the person who stutters perceives him/herself. The following case study sent by Barry Murphy from England demonstrates in an interesting way, how Barry has come to much same conclusion.

A life long battle with speaking

My first remembrance of stammering was at school when I was aged ten. The class was reading from the Bible, person by person. I can still feel the anxiety of it getting nearer my turn. Lo and behold, I stammered.

My stammer generally has not been absolutely constant. In a year I would have some fluent periods. As I've become more aware of other aspects of my persona, the stammering is generally linked to some other external trigger -- fear, anxiety, depression, stress.

I eventually attended a series of classes in London in the evenings after work. These were mainly centered around deep relaxation. I was impressed with this as I could always speak fluently under these circumstances. I observed even a severe stammerer who would normally take up to twenty minutes to start a word, speak quite perfectly. .I tried to carry through this relaxation into my everyday life with some positive effect, but as soon as a stressful situation occurred, such as waiting in line to get a ticket at the station, the fear always overwhelmed the efforts at remaining relaxed. Overall it was only a useful method when circumstances were non-threatening.

When living in the U.S.A for 13 years I attended several classes run by the local mental health centre.An interpersonal relations course helped by receiving feedback from ordinary people. They saw me differently from my own self image, I also had relaxation, deep relaxation and some self-hypnosis training. All may have helped with my overall being, but certainly not long term with my stammer.

When I returned to England I was under great stress -- buying a house, getting my family here and settling into what was after so many years away, an alien society. After being back for several years I attended a long summer course for stammerers at Brighton Polytechnic College in Brighton about 25 miles from me. This was by far the most useful help I ever got. It consisted of becoming aware of how my mouth, tongue, throat felt when I was fluent, and watching myself in a mirror when I spoke, especially on the telephone. By always checking how my body felt before speaking it seemed to stop my getting into a block. I became quite fluent for the longest time I had ever experienced.

Even though I have planned and operated my life at the lowest possible stress level, the everyday stress of life gradually comes back, closely followed by the stammer. It starts small at first, but ever worsening, until now I'd rather be without speech at all, unable to speak. That would be easier.

My main interest in all of this is what seems to me the link between self-image and the speech problem.We all know the old chestnut of not stammering if you're acting, putting on a foreign accent or talking to a baby. But it goes a lot further, at least with me. If I'm on a stage as a musician, and introduce a song, I hardly ever stammer. I'm a craftsman and last year gave a short lecture. Again I had no problem. I've thought a lot about this and I believe it is linked to how we perceive ourselves. When I am giving a talk and I'm the authority I'm being listened to for a different reason than I would be in general conversation (plus of course one doesn't feel hurried in case someone interrupts). If I'm on stage, I'm there because I've got something to offer..You could call it "feeling superior," something a stammerer rarely feels. Now of course comes the negative side. So why don't I just feel superior all the time. Well, like most sensitive people, for me that's a real "no no." I have been raised to never have such thoughts. To be humble is more acceptable.

Well if you want to stammer, feel humble. It will work everytime. I believe there is a link. My self-mage now after so many years is not one of strengths and successes. The programming is all bad.

When I forget I'm a stammerer I don't stammer. Suddenly I will remember who I am and the speech goes instantly into disfluency. It is so insidious. It always gets me. I just can't forget for very long. I could go on a lot more but I'm sure you get the gist, and that is that I just can't forget I'm a stammerer.

Sincerely Barry M. Murphy in England

submitted 7 Jul 2001, and added with permission