Stammering - a case study

Stammering – a case study

Stammering was the reason why Barry* had come to hate his name – it began with a letter that he struggled with, and he dreaded introducing himself to people.

“I thought about changing it” he told me, “but what would I do after that? Change my job? Move street so they don’t cause me problems either? Not give my little girls nice names?”

I admired Barry’s grit and determination, and they were going to be of real help in him tackling his stammering. The other help would be how he hadn’t avoided situations where his stammering could be a problem for him. “But that hasn’t made it any better” he complained. “No”, I replied “but it has stopped it from getting any worse”.

Like lots of people who have a stammer or a block, Barry didn’t experience it in every situation that he faced. It was worse, as you might expect, when he was stressed or anxious. The problem was that worrying about stammering made him anxious, which prompted the stammering, which turned his worry into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Barry did have situations as well where his stammer disappeared – when he was doing impressions, and when he was singing. This was important because it let him see that he could, in the right circumstances, speak fluently and be completely free of his stammer.

Barry was particularly interested in looking at a couple of incidents from his early school years, where he felt that his stammering began. I asked Barry to describe these incidents to me in as much detail as possible, and to describe his feelings and thoughts about the incident at the time. We were then able to take him back to those times and experience them again, but this time with the benefit of years of experience.

Changing how Barry felt about these formative experiences was only one of three approaches that he asked to take. The second was to practise getting into, and maintaining, the relaxed and confident mental state when he was fluent. Barry had difficulties with this, as he still struggled to really believe that he would be able to speak really fluently outside of impersonations and singing.

This is where the third approach came in. I hypnotised Barry and then recorded him speaking whilst under hypnosis. When he first heard this he couldn’t believe what he was hearing – not only because he couldn’t remember saying it, but because he sounded so fluent as well.

It was hearing himself speak fluently that gave Barry the belief that he needed for the other approaches to really take effect. He still has trouble sometimes believing what he hears – because he’s still amazed that after being stuck for so long he was able to come so far.

* Barry’s real identity has been protected, and he is happy to share his story.

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