Stuttering is a type of speech disorder that interrupts the normal flow of speech. This means those with a stutter will know exactly what they want to say, but may find it difficult to get the words out. This can cause communication difficulties. This may then lead to damaged self-esteem, low self-confidence and even anxiety.
While stuttering is common among young children and tends to resolves itself naturally, in some cases it can follow into adulthood. Interestingly, stuttering can also begin in adulthood. As stuttering is often exacerbated by stress and anxiety, hypnotherapy can be a helpful tool alongside other treatments such as speech therapy.
Keep reading to learn more about stuttering in children, stuttering in adults, what treatments are available and how hypnotherapy may be able to help.
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What is a stutter?
There are many different speech disorders that make communication difficult, of all of them stuttering is perhaps the most common. Also known as a stammer, a stutter will typically cause the speaker to repeat the first part of the word (as in "b-b-b-book") or hold a sound for an extended period of time (as in "booooooook"). For some, getting any sound out at all is difficult. All stammers are individual however and will vary from person to person.
Those who have a stutter may add words like 'um' into their speech if they anticipate a problem moving to the next word. They may also experience behaviours such as rapid eye blinks, head jerks and facial ticks.
Many people who stutter find it gets worse when they are excited, stressed, tired or under pressure. For example, when put into an anxiety-inducing situation (e.g. making a speech) stuttering may increase. It is this physical reaction to an emotion that can be addressed with hypnotherapy.
Interestingly, many people who stutter don't report problems when they sing, talk to themselves or talk in unison with someone else. This could, in part, be due to a reduction of stress in these situations.
What causes it?
The cause of stuttering is complex and varied. Experts believe there are a combination of factors at play, including:
- Genetics - Research shows that 60% of those with a stutter have a family member who also stutters.
- Other speech difficulties - Those who have experienced other speech difficulties may be more prone to developing a stutter.
- Rapid speech rate - If someone naturally speaks quickly, they may encounter more speech problems.
- Differences in the brain - Studies have shown that those with a stutter typically process language in different areas of the brain.
It is estimated that one per cent of adults in the UK stutter and interestingly it is four times more likely to affect men than women.
Stuttering in children
Between the ages of two and five, stuttering is common. These are the years when we learn to talk, and so there are often bumps in the road. Stuttering in children may last for weeks or months, but most will grow out of it.
If the stammer is frequent and appears to be getting worse, it may be worth checking their symptoms with a doctor. If your child reaches school age with their stammer, they are likely to become more aware of it. This can lead to anxiety and may even result in bullying from other children.
If this happens, speaking to your child's teacher is recommended to help stop the bullying. Being bullied or feeling embarrassed by stuttering can make the problem worse as anxiety surrounding talking begins.
If your child has a stammer, try the following techniques to improve their confidence when speaking:
- Make talking fun and relaxed, don't demand your child speaks 'correctly' at all times.
- Avoid corrections and criticisms, these may make your child more self-conscious.
- Try not to ask too many questions, children tend to speak more freely when expressing their own ideas.
- Don't ask your child to read out loud or make a speech if they are feeling stressed/upset.
- Keep the house as calm as possible, a relaxed atmosphere encourages a relaxed state of mind.
- Speak slowly and clearly when talking to them, this will help them mimic your speaking style.
- Convey that you accept your child as he/she is - this will help them feel relaxed about their stutter and are less likely to develop anxiety.
Viewing stuttering as 'wrong' or 'bad' in childhood could cause your child to encounter speaking issues in adulthood. For this reason, perhaps the most important thing you can do is be nurturing, caring and accepting of the way they speak.
Stuttering in adults
If stuttering continues into adulthood it can lead to stress, anxiety and low self-esteem. In some cases, stuttering can start in adulthood. The reasons for this are varied, but may include the following:
Considered one of the most common causes of stuttering in adults, neurological (brain) trauma includes stroke, head injury, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. As this cause of stammering is physical, medical intervention and speech and language therapy are typically required.
In some cases, a stammer can occur due to a drug reaction. Certain prescribed medications for example may lead to changes in speech. If this happens while you are taken a medicine, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.
An event or series of events that you find stressful can result in stuttering. This is often referred to as psychogenic stuttering. Some examples of stressful events include the end of a relationship and bereavement. A stress-reaction could also follow an accident or other trauma. In many cases this form of stuttering corrects itself once the stress and anxiety dissipates. This particular form of stuttering can benefit greatly from hypnotherapy as it can help you overcome the associated stress and anxiety.
Re-occurrence of a childhood stammer
As we have already mentioned, stuttering in children is relatively common. In some instances a child may grow out of their stammer, but it then reappears in adulthood. When a child has a stammer, they may learn to avoid certain words or certain speaking situations. To an onlooker this may look like they've overcome their stutter. These methods of coping can break down in later life, causing the stammer to re-emerge.
Sometimes stuttering in adults occurs for seemingly no reason. In these cases it is important to do the necessary investigation (i.e. see your doctor) and explore your treatment options.
Coping at work with a stutter
Stuttering can be considered a disability under the Equality Act. This means that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you because of your stutter. It can be helpful however to discuss your speech disorder with your employer, in case they need to make any adjustments.
Adjustments your employer may want to make could include:
- Allowing more time for oral activities (interviews, presentations etc.).
- More emphasis on written work.
- Giving ample time for you to be heard in meetings.
- Negotiating alternative arrangements to telephone calls if they are presenting a problem.
If you are worried about your speech, it is important to go to your doctor. They will be able to carry out physical and hearing tests to ascertain any physical causes. Once a cause has been established, your doctor will be able to talk through your treatment options.
The most common form of treatment is speech and language therapy. A speech and language therapist is an expert in speech disorders, such as stuttering. They will assess you to better understand what you have difficulty with (for example, fluency or articulation). They will then work with you to draw up a treatment plan. This will likely involve speech exercises.
The exercises you are given will depend on the nature of your stammer. Many therapists will look to control and improve your fluency. This will teach you to speak slowly and deliberately. Over time you should be able to build up a more natural speaking pattern.
For many, tackling any underlying stress, anxiety or self-esteem issues is also required. This can be addressed in several ways including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy for stuttering
Treating any physical cause of a stammer is advised, but when looking at treating psychological causes or triggers, hypnotherapy for stuttering can be incredibly helpful. There are many areas related to stuttering which can be addressed, including the following:
Many people become self-conscious of their stuttering. This can quickly lead to anxiety, as they believe stuttering is 'wrong' and something to be ashamed of. This typically stems from childhood when teachers or family may have told them that stuttering is 'bad'. If this applies to you, you may have learnt that stuttering is wrong. This learnt behaviour can become embodied in your muscles (known as muscle memory) which can make stuttering worse. Hypnotherapy for stuttering looks to reduce anxiety about stuttering. Often, when this worry about speaking is removed, the stammer eases up naturally.
A common side-effect of stuttering is low self-esteem. This may occur due to childhood bullying or through being told stuttering is 'wrong'. Hypnotherapy can help this by changing negative thought patterns to more positive ones. Over time, this can improve your self-esteem.
If you believe your stammer can be traced back to a stressful event, hypnotherapy may be able to help. The analytical side of hypnotherapy can help you identify the event that triggered your stutter, helping you to resolve and residual issues. This can be especially helpful if you find certain situations/people make your stutter worse.
A lot of people find their stutter gets worse when they are stressed. Hypnotherapy is effective at treating stress and can help with this. Your hypnotherapist is likely to put you into a state of deep relaxation so your subconscious is open to suggestion. At this point, your hypnotherapist can suggest relaxation as a response to the stressful situation. This combined with self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques can help to reduce stress and hopefully reduce your stutter.
For some people, their stutter is triggered by something. It may be a situation, an environment or even a person. If this is the case for you, hypnotherapy may be able to help you deal more effectively to your triggers. For example, instead of feeling anxious about a situation, your hypnotherapist could teach you new reactions, so you feel confident and relaxed. This should ease your stuttering.
As with many forms of therapy, figuring out what works best for you individually is key. For many, a multi-pronged approach works well. This may mean visiting your doctor in the first instance and then working with a hypnotherapist alongside a speech and language therapist.
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