Vivian Mowat Sheehan passed away February 14, 2008, at her home in Santa Monica, California. Vivian Mowat earned an A.B. (Adrian College), M.A. (University of Michigan). Ollie Backus who write extensively about group therapy in her 1930's was her mentor. Vivian shared information about group therapy with Charles Riper and later with her husband, Joseph Sheehan. Group therapy became an integral part of speech therapy for people who stutter and for people with aphasia. Vivian began her career as a "Speech Correctionist" in the Public Schools in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was also on the 1944 staff for Shady Trails in Michigan. 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
Vivian published an E-Book, Easy Stuttering. The following summary reproduced below, is from the E-Book site:
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 giving.
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.
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 forward.
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.
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.
Elizabeth Edwards - tribute delivered at Special Interest Division conference, Phoenix, AZ, June 2008
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:
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.