PWSS

Paul Brocklehurst, Ph.D.

 

My name is Paul Brocklehurst; I am a Scot residing in France. I have degrees in Speech Therapy and Psycholinguistics, and I have devoted my adult life to speech research.

I began stuttering at the age of 3 during a stay in hospital due to complications that arose from glandular fever. Initially my stutter consisted of long silent blocks, but within a few years I had also developed an array of secondary symptoms the most prominent of which were head-jerks and facial contortions. I had standard speech-therapy from a number of speech therapists throughout my childhood, none of which made any lasting difference. I also had elocution lessons, various forms of psychotherapy and hypnosis. Despite all of these interventions my stutter continued to grow more severe and, by the age of 14, I not only stuttered severely but also suffered from severe social anxiety.

At the age of 15, I enrolled on an intensive course of systematic desensitization and behaviour therapy for stuttering which was run by a psychiatrist at Friern Barnet hospital in London. After two weeks of daily exercises, my stutter went into remission and for the first time in my life I was able to hold real conversations, and it seemed like the stutter had completely disappeared. But then, after a week or so of what seemed like completely fluent speech, I started noticing a few minor dysfluencies and I started to worry that the stutter might be coming back. My worrying spiralled out of control and over the course of the following two weeks the stutter returned in full force. In desperation I re-started the systematic desensitization therapy all over again. But this time, for some reason, it no longer worked. Although very frustrating, this experience of remission followed by relapse fascinated me and it was at that point that I made up my mind to become a doctor and dedicate my life to researching stuttering.

At 18 I won a place at Southampton University to study medicine. But very soon after starting there it became clear that my stutter was too severe to enable me to satisfactorily fulfil many of the speech-related aspects of the course. It was also isolating me socially and causing me a lot of anxiety. Things came to a head when one day, I witnessed a serious motor cycle accident. Being the first person on the scene, I tried to call for help and found myself completely unable to utter a single word. This experience left me feeling inadequate and depressed and eventually led to me giving up on my medical studies.

At the age of 21, I started reading about Zen, joined a Zen meditation group, and started meditating each morning and evening and practicing mindfulness whenever I remembered to do so throughout the day. After about 18 months of determined practice my stuttering went into remission. In the beginning the remission was total and I thought the stutter had finally gone away. However, a couple of years later, after moving to Greece and trying to learn to speak Greek, I noticed myself starting to block when I tried to pronounce some of the more difficult words in Greek. This shook my confidence and I started to worry that the stutter might return. Then, gradually, I started to notice myself blocking on some English words as well. These fears of relapse led me to return to practicing meditation and mindfulness. But despite this practice, the stutter did indeed return, albeit in a much milder form than previously. On returning to England, although nobody thought that I still had a problem with stuttering, the fear of it returning in full force was still present, and it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I was only managing to sustain the appearance of having it under control by avoiding challenging situations. And, despite appearances, the stutter was once again holding me back in life. I struggled on like this for a further 15 years until, at the age of 40, I finally decided that I had to do something about it, and once again started reading books about stuttering.

A big breakthrough came about after reading a new theory of stuttering developed by a team of psycholinguistic researchers in Holland. Essentially, the theory (known as the Covert Repair Hypothesis) was that stuttering occurs because whenever we perceive that a word is not going to come out right, our automatic response is to go back and try again. On reading this, the thought occurred to me that perhaps if, instead of continually going back and trying again and again to say the sounds I couldn’t say, if I just simply abandoned those sounds and instead carried on saying the remaining sounds that I could say, then perhaps the net result would be an improvement in my speech. This process is akin to Lee’s Crutches 3, skip words and 6, rephrase the thought. To my surprise, this pragmatic approach worked extremely well and within a few days I found that my tendency to block had substantially diminished, as had my fear of getting stuck. Over the course of the following weeks, in addition to jumping over the sounds I couldn’t say (similar to Lee’s Crutch 1, omitting syllables or words), I developed an array of purely pragmatic “crutches” that enabled me to successfully keep moving forward in practically all speaking situations. As I now look at Lee’s 12 (13) Crutches, I can see that I stumbled on many of the same methods as did Lee. Indeed, our tortured paths and solutions seemed to overlap.

Because of my previous experiences of relapse, I waited a year just to make sure that I wasn’t just undergoing yet another temporary remission. Then finally, after a year of waiting, I decided to return to university. I successfully completed degrees in Speech Therapy and Psycholinguistics and then, quite unexpectedly, was awarded funding to do a PhD to research the relationship between stuttering and perfectionism. Following the PhD, I then went on to develop a therapy programme that incorporated the methods that had helped me and that was based on the findings of the research I had been involved with, which seem to parallel many of Lee’s. Over the past few years I have continued to develop this programme, an online course, available at no charge, that can be found at http://www.stammeringresearch.org/onlinecourse/.

A few months ago, one of my clients mentioned to me that Lee Lovett had written a book that seemed to be advocating an approach that was very similar to my own. So I bought Lee’s book (Stuttering & Anxiety Self-Cures, 2nd Edition), and was delighted to find that Lee has indeed described, in beautifully clear and simple language, essentially exactly the same combination of psychological approach and practical crutches that have enabled me to attain the level of fluency and confidence that I now have. It seems that the two of us have undergone parallel journeys and quite independently arrived at the same destination.

Since then, I emailed Lee, and we have exchanged ideas extensively and enjoyed a four-hour tea together in London. As a result, I volunteered to join SAA as a “Coach” and then accepted Lee’s invitation to become a member of Speech Anxiety Anonymous’ Advisory Board. Although I still describe myself as a stutterer, I have achieved a “self-cure”, as Lee/SAA define it, and I did so using methods substantially similar to Lee’s, and I subscribe to most of the rest of his methods. (There will always be difference in style. I used Zen meditation where Lee used auto suggestion/self-hypnosis. As Lee agrees, stuttering is a very individual condition, and not all methods will help all PWS equally.) As such, I am further pleased to post this Success Story and join SAA’s Speech Hall of Fame.

Finally, I applaud SAA and its noble, unselfish goals to aid PWS worldwide at no cost. Thus, it gives me great pleasure to urge speech sufferers to read Lee’s beautifully written and lucid book and to avail themselves of SAA’s Coaching and thus join its War against Stuttering.

PAUL BROCKLEHURST, Ph.D., Scotland/France

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