Ironically, one of the greatest advantages of the use of the Passive Air
Flow Technique - the speed with which it often brings total fluency - can,
with some patients, also be one of its greatest setbacks. A patient who
on Monday had been a severe stutterer, will on Tuesday, speak effortlessly
everywhere without a trace of his former problem. He, his friends, and
family would be delighted; his therapist, on the other hand, would be deeply
For the immediate, total success produced by the Air Flow Technique
for some patients can be reversed as quickly as it was learned, if careful
maintenance is ignored. The patient is highly suggestible, having just
overcome a major lifelong difficulty, and if he lets down his defenses
and relaxes his attention to technique, he runs the risk of having his
stuttering return at the slightest provocation. He also open himself up
to another, more subtle complication - a condition that I have come to
call "the assault of the subconscious."
The assault of the subconscious only occurs in individuals with a moderate
or severe stutter who quickly become fluent. Shortly after attaining fluency
the patient reports experiencing an anxiety attack which may range from
nervousness to a deeper sense of dread. The anxiety continues unabated
for days and they begin to feel that if only they were to start stuttering
again, their anxieties would decrease. For a small percentage of patients
the stress is so great they succumb to the temptation. The stress does
indeed stop after the resumption of stuttering and the patient vows "never
to go near that fluency again."
The theoretical explanation for the assault of the subconscious is as
follows: The subconscious plays a critical role in a person's identity,
and in producing and maintaining change. In a person who stutters, the
subconscious sees itself as a stutterer. For years the individual has been
telling his subconscious that he cannot say certain sounds, certain words,
or speak in certain situations - and the subconscious believes it. The
subconscious does not place a value judgement on stuttering, it simply
says that's the way it is. Value judgements came from the conscious mind.
When a person abruptly stops stuttering, the subconscious becomes disoriented.
Fluency is not the normal state of affairs; it violates the self concept
of the subconscious. The subconscious becomes "concerned" that the well-being
of the individual is being threatened, and and its only mode of response
is to "sound the alarm" by raising the person's level of anxiety.
It is well known in learning psychology that all newly learned behaviors,
including the Passive Air Flow Technique, are lost under conditions of
stress. The elevated state of anxiety is an attempt on the part of the
subconscious to restore its self concept as a stutterer by causing the
individual to give up his newly-learned fluency. I have encountered this
problem time and again, in totally different situations, and have come
to recognize it as the precipitating cause of relapse in patients who attain
total fluency quickly!
During my early experiences with stutterers I found that fully a third
of those who became totally fluent quickly reported the assault of the
subconscious. Some would "hang tough" and after a week or two it would
be gone; others would succumb to the temptation to resume stuttering and
would be lost to the Program. The Bathtub Technique is a treatment that
has been developed by the National Center for Stuttering to deal with this
problem. At first it may seem unusual, but it has been used with over 4,000
patients and it successfully eliminates the assault of the subconscious.
Three things are required: a bathtub filled with warm water, a candle
in a candle holder, and a mirror. The candle is lit, placed in the holder,
and put on the ledge of the tub. The mirror is placed next to it. The patient
then turns out the light, enters the tub reclines in the water so that
his torso is completely submerged, breathes calmly in and out through his
nose, keeps his eyes open and stares at a spot on the wall directly in
front of him. Each time the air calmly comes out of his nose, he thinks
the word one. As he does this, he may find his mind starting to drift,
starting to think other thoughts. Each time this happens, he is to bring
his mind gently back to thinking the word one. Since the mind is an undisciplined
thing, he may find himself frequently having to bring it back to the thought.
But he is to persevere for at least five minutes and steep there in the
tub like a pot of tea.
Here's how the first phase of this technique works: First, the warm
water mechanically relaxes the muscles of the patient's body. Second, the
subdued light from the candle prevents any bright light from tensing his
eyes. Third, fixing his eyes on a spot on the wall prevents eye-scanning
movements, which is important to this exercise since eye-scanning movements
have been shown to stimulate muscle tension. Fourth, thinking the word
one over and over again renders the word meaningless. Like repeating a
Hindu mantra, and this prevents the patient from thinking about what he
should have done yesterday and what he has to do tomorrow. Such thoughts
In those five minutes, we are attempting to strip away as much muscle
tension as we can, to create as much of an intra-uterine experience as
we can, our mother's uterus being the safest place we've ever known - warm,
moist, dark, supportive, thoughtless, relaxed. We are using an intra-uterine
model as the physiological rationale for this first phase of The Bathtub
We now move to the second phase. The patient sits up in the tub, picks
up the mirror, and positions it so that he can see his eyes. Using perfect
Air Flow Technique, he begins to repeat the word "relax" slowly, using
an extremely soft voice. He does this for about three minutes (usually
about fifty repetitions are produced during this time). These first two
phases are designed to reduce muscle tension to a level where we can access
We are now ready for the third and most important phase of the program.
In it, the patient is literally going to brainwash himself; he is going
to change the self-concept of the subconscious..
The patient reads a specially-prepared series of positive statements
called affirmations. The affirmations are prepared individually for each
patient. They are read three times using the Air Flow Technique. One of
these affirmations is designed to provide subconscious motivation to practice.
It is naive to rely solely on conscious desire, when the subconscious is
free and accessible.
Subconscious motivation is powerful but gentle. An example of this is
brushing the teeth. Think of brushing the teeth as practice we do every
morning and every evening. Somehow we feel obliged to do it, as if the
day would be uncomfortable or incomplete if we didn't. There is no question
about our doing it. It is something we all have to do and we never call
it practice. It is our subconscious at work, telling us to do it. We are
almost never too tired to brush our teeth. So too does airflow practice
become almost involuntary as the bathtub technique affects the subconscious.
Each patient is provided with a post-hypnotic cue word to say silently
before entering a stressful speaking situation. Many stutterers, when they
say the word, experience a profound drop in Base Level Stress - to the
point where they seem to be alone, even if they are in the middle of a
large group. Their fluency is then assured.
Home | Table of Contents |