There is ample reason to accept a psychological explanation of the cause
of stuttering. Stutterers acknowledge that their problem becomes worse
under conditions of stress and report, for example, that when they were
alone and under no stress, they have no difficulty.
Stutterers for years have gone to psychologists or psychiatrists to
have their problem treated. The published results have not been encouraging.
The stuttering rarely, if ever, improved. And the usual explanation offered
by the psychotherapist was that the problem was so deep-seated, having
most often begun between the ages of two and six, that it would require
years of intensive therapy to get to its roots and handle it effectively.
And this, in spite of the fact that repeated psychological tests have shown
stutterers to be totally representative of the normal population.
One stutterer I saw had undergone seventeen years of psychotherapy at
a total cost of approximately $85,000. I remember noting on my evaluation
form that this young man was probably the most well-adjusted stutterer
I had ever seen.
To this very day, the mythology persists that stuttering is a "psychological
problem." Each year so-called experts write books that proclaim this fact
aloud, and articles appear frequently in both newspapers and magazines
that reinforce the belief. Psychiatrists continue to attempt to treat thousands
of stutterers each year using techniques that have long since been proven
Freud knew they were inadequate. In one of his early books he wrote,
"Whatever the source of stuttering is, it is not amenable to the treatments
I have developed. I therefore refuse to attempt to deal with it further."
But it was never-the-less clear to me that stress was affecting the
tension at the vocal cords. I discussed the problem with a physiatrist
friend who specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and he
told me about a study that had been published in 1953. It appears that
a laboratory had been established in Germany to study the physiology of
movement of world-class athletes, with the goal being able to enhance athletic
ability. As part of this research, the investigators had considered the
effects of stress.
The research found that the athletes tensed their muscles when stressed,
but most interestingly, that they focused tension in certain areas of the
body - the most common ones being the muscles of the shoulder girdle, abdominal
wall, lower back, face and hands. These foci were later termed targets
and found to be congenital and frequently, but not always, inherited.
There were also less common targets, and one of them, affecting about
two percent of the world's people, are the muscles of the vocal cords.
Subsequent research revealed that all stutterers come from this 2% population.
Stutterers are born with the tendency to tense their cords when under stress.
In these studies the entire body was mapped for men and women, and sex
differences in targets were found. For example, while fully five times
as many males focused tension at their vocal cords when stressed, almost
three times as many women focused tension in the abdominal wall muscles
when under identical stress.
I showed this research to the Speech Pathologist and he postulated that
the five-to-one sex ratio for the vocal cords shown for males might explain
the precisely identical sex ratio for stutterers reported in the research
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