THE SOCIAL WORKER
I remember vividly when I was seven years old (that was 26 years ago).
My parents were vociferously affirming "You are not really a stutterer,
you just have to learn to think before you talk". This notion - that something
was screwed up in my thought processes - set me on an incredible journey
from therapist to therapist in search of a way, method, or system to tighten
up my "sick" mind and help me to stop stuttering.
This poor, distorted self-image was continually reinforced by teachers
and schoolmates. I remember the frequent instances of laughter in the elementary
grades when I was called on to speak. I remember the feeling of utter terror
going up and down my spine in anticipation of being singled out to speak.
I remember the grimaces of disappointment on my father's face when I blocked
on a word or phrase. His body language affected me greatly and usually
released a bevy of verbal blocks. So at an early age I learned that if
I wanted to passively upset my parents, all I would have to do is stutter
- and since I was very angry, I did it all the time.
Then the myriad of therapies began. First, it was from a matronly woman
who lived in a house full of antiques. A classical speech therapist, she
had me recite, curl my tongue, and massage my neck muscles. I lost interest
in this quickly and besides receiving some candy canes I don't recall much
benefit from the experience.
My next adventure was with an institute specializing in speech disorders.
The modalities this time were group therapy, play therapy, and relaxation
exercises. Imagine for a moment the painfully tedious progress which can
be made in a group full of stutterers trying to communicate with each other.
Time passed slowly but my symptoms held fast.
After a therapeutic hiatus of three or four years, I found myself an
awkward adolescent with a horrible self-concept. I frankly thought I was
crazy and persuaded my parents to have me see a psychiatrist. He was a
classical analyst who delighted in relating my adolescent psycho-sexual
fantasies to my stuttering. He tried to hypnotize me but I did not trust
him and hence was a poor subject.
My social life was a disaster. Since I could not speak over the telephone,
I found it very difficult to go out on dates. My friends occasionally made
calls, pretending they were me, but as you could imagine, it was impossible
to follow-up on such proxy dates!
In high school I excelled in writing. I became editor of the literary
magazine and was a speech writer for winning candidates in student government.
I vicariously spoke through them.
In college the same social pressures and frustrations increased. I consequently
did very poorly during the first two years and decided to have another
round at psycho-therapy. This time it was with a very supportive "ego psychologist".
My fluency did not increase but I began to understand myself better and
my self-esteem improved considerably. I decided to take a master's degree
in social work and in graduate school I was an honor student.
Everything was going fine until a research project I was conducting
required the use of a telephone for interviews. I manipulated the situation
by getting my wife to call for me and even faking some interviews,. The
reality of living a lie threw me into a serious depression.
The "better living through chemistry" concept took firm hold of me via
a team of organic psychiatrists attached to the university I was attending.
In addition to anti-depressants they were experimenting with major tranquilizers
to relax my neck muscles. I gave up that folly when I experienced the horror
of not being able to swallow.
I dropped out of graduate school and went to a rural part of the western
United States to work. I got a job as a school social worker. Since this
job required considerable verbal ability, my new found depression was a
convenient out to continuing the job.
I went back into therapy - this time with a Jungian analyst. After 5
sessions he wisely told me to "stop achieving, drop out and try to find
yourself". At the same time I met a man who was deeply involved in the
"Synanon" type therapeutic community movement back East. I knew that if
I were to really grow up I would have to rid myself of those drugs which
the good doctors had prescribed for me. My wife and I flew back East and
spent a miraculous two weeks of detoxification and self-discovery. My depression
game was completely shattered by this community of ex-cons and recovered
We returned to the West and began an incredible drug-free adventure
into the potentialities of the fulfillment of human consciousness and practical
mysticism. Our lives were finally together and although I did stutter occasionally
on the telephone and in groups, it did not seem to hamper my development.
My spiritual master, Meher Baba once said, "Do your best, then don't worry;
be happy and leave the results to God". I took these words as my guide
and was resigned to the fact that I would probably stutter the rest of
my life. There's a funny thing about resignation. Once you are really resigned
to something, it occasionally happens that opportunities for self-growth
arise of which you had not previously been aware.
I noticed an article in a magazine about the Air Flow Technique. Since
my profession is the evaluation of clinical therapies I was quite skeptical
of the reported high success rate but I was intrigued enough to read Stuttering
Solved. My scientific side was quite satisfied and my metaphysical
nature was equally pleased (mystics of all traditions have been aware of
the power of the breath as a healing tool throughout the ages).
I entered therapy and on the following day spoke fluently! Now a year
has gone by and I have been practicing daily on an intensive basis. I can
honestly say that I remember only about 10 occasions on which I have stuttered
during the past year and it was only when I forgot to conscientiously apply
I thank God for the wisdom of this technique and for my continued strength
to harness the healing power of the breath.
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