A common complaint of people who have undergone stuttering treatment is that the results don’t last. This complaint relates to many other conditions, such as weight loss, anger management, addictions and so forth, and is discussed in a wonderful book, Changing For Good, by Prochaska, Norcross, & Diclemente. The authors discuss the reasons that people who come to treatment wanting to achieve certain goals do not maintain their accomplishments, and they outline a program to overcome this problem. I believe it is a must read for people who want to help themselves to make long-term changes in their behaviors and attitudes. In fact, I have incorporated the principles of this program in the Dynamic Stuttering Therapy Workbook.
Over and above the general difficulties of maintaining change, stuttering is a condition that presents special difficulties for the maintenance of change. One of these is that there is most likely an innate tendency for the brain to use an ineffective way for processing speech. Another is that most people who stutter are usually trying to change the wrong thing. I would like to address these two issues.
Research has shown that there are functional and possibly structural difference in the brains of fluent speakers and people who stutter when speaking. These findings are overlooked in most treatment programs. When working on speech tools, the goal is usually to change speech without any consideration of how the speech is being produced. Tools include smooth, slow speech, gentle onsets, pullouts, cancellations and voluntary stuttering. Working on using these techniques is like trying to change how the cake looks when it is finished instead of changing the ingredients and how they are put together. They deal with the result of speaking, the speech, instead of working on how to make it.
In Dynamic Stuttering Therapy we relate to the neuro-physiological process of speaking. During therapy one of the biggest challenges is to get clients to report on how they process speech both in practice and conversations between therapy sessions, instead of on whether or not they stuttered. I find that the clients who succeed in making this switch in perspective are the ones who maintain the new process and enhance their ability to speak fluently. This makes sense. If you are trying to be fluent, who knows what you are doing. It’s all a matter of chance. If you have a way of making speech that results in natural fluency, as happens when you use the processes you have used during therapy, you can make certain you use it.
Once we accept that there is a correct and incorrect process for making speech, there is still a need to cope with the innate tendency of the brain to function the way it is used to functioning. We have a clearly defined process for producing fluent speech, but that does not mean that just because you know the process and have used it, the brain will always function this way. People who stutter have to decide to use the process. The process doesn’t happen to them. They make it happen. Brain processes become stable only when they are repeated over and over again with awareness for at least 6 months to a year. This requires carrying out the process with awareness for a long time after knowing what and how to do it.
When the goal of therapy is to process speech normally, the issue of regression changes. Stuttering doesn’t come and go. You do not have to hope that you will maintain results. There is a direct connection between what you do and the fluency of speech. Regression does not happen, although the speaker might not use the effective process all the time. In this case stuttering may occur. Nevertheless, if you know the processes for producing fluent speech, you know how to return to it. Being able to do this is not a matter of chance. It is an empowering experience.