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by Geoff Johnston, Regional Director, McGuire Programme (Aust)

This article contains some random thoughts about what I have found helpful in improving our speech and what hasn’t. My opinions are based on observations of myself and other people who stutter particularly during the last 12 years working with over 1,000 such people on the McGuire Programme.

If you want to get good at anything…a sport, playing music, business, career, etc. you would do well to find someone who has excelled at that particular vocation, find out what they did and follow that example with the same attitude and persistence and it is likely you’ll get similar results.

How brave the person is and their attitude and motivation to change will determine their level of permanent success.

I want to run through a list of strategies that have worked for people in the hope that even one or two may help you.


  • They take ownership of the problem and are committed to work hard with courage and persistence. They are not victims waiting for someone or something to cure them! They set goals and GO FOR IT!
  • They completely and assertively accept themselves as a person who stutters (PWS). That is they don’t accept themselves as a PWS forever but at this time a PWS who is working hard to become an effective communicator.
  • Assertive self-acceptance is an active task requiring the person to be open about their stuttering, to disclose that they have a stutter and to demonstrate they have a stutter by stuttering on purpose in a relaxed manner, great eye contact and a smile. Lack of assertive self-acceptance, trying to hide the stutter and trying to be fluent are the main causes of turbulence and relapse after initial treatment! Rule: If you go into a speaking situation and you’re afraid you might stutter that’s exactly what you must do! Under your control NOT out of control! Real case: I went out on a contacts session with coach Cliff on the weekend and we worked on our voluntary stutters (VSs). I managed 250 VSs. It’s amazing how your fear of stuttering completely fades away.
  • They research and engage a treatment strategy that suits their objectives and personality.
  • They learn a speaking technique in an intensive environment that will give them an initial boost of self-confidence, self-esteem and the courage for the battle ahead.
  • They drill and practise that technique making it their speaking pattern of choice at least in the short to medium term in ALL situations. It becomes natural, second nature. You have to think about the technique less and less
  • They refuse to entertain negative thoughts around speaking situations choosing instead to focus on past successes and the feelings that flow from those experiences.
  • They learn to control their fear and anxiety by controlling their thoughts rather than allowing their thoughts to control them. If they suffer from Stuttered Speech Syndrome (refer Dr Mark Irwin,, that is unreasonable social anxiety in speaking situations, they seek treatment options such as CBT to supplement their treatment.
  • They realise to be successful they need to change their speaking world and the meaning they give to speaking situations so adopting the appropriate ego state when communicating to people.
  • They embrace every speaking situation and go out of their way to create new speaking situations. For example, if they’re afraid of public speaking they join Toastmasters.
  • They display great courage.
  • They expand their comfort zone to the nth degree with NO avoidance. Avoidance fuels the fear and anxiety that maintains the stuttering mentality. eg Real case: Melbourne graduates setting a challenge to speak to over 300 strangers on an organised “contact day”.
  • They join a support group or self-help group that provides ongoing coaching and support. We cannot do this alone! However, support groups for people who stutter lack ambition…what we should be setting up is support groups to help people OUT of stuttering!
  • They live by their intentions rather than their own or someone else’s expectations.
  • Over time they change their perceptions and beliefs about their speaking personality.


  • Trying to be fluent – fluency should be the end result of life changes, shifts in attitudes and changes in the system which is you, NOT as the main focus. Measurements such as stuttered syllables per minute focus on fluent speech which in my opinion re-enforces “trying to be fluent”.
  • Attending a treatment option because mum, dad or your partner wanted you to. Lack of ownership and personal responsibility.
  • Negative attitudes – thinking why this won’t work for you rather than looking for reasons why it will!
  • Using tricks and avoidance to try to hide our stuttering – a life of fear and anxiety awaits!
  • Looking at stuttering as a problem which can be “fixed” rather than understanding changes in your speech will follow changes in you!
  • Thinking a technique will cure you. Technique is 10% of the solution. How you use it and what you do with it in the real world is the other 90%!
  • After an initial period of consolidation, not going for free expression, with your technique only a tool to be used as and when required. Initially we have to control the stutter to have positive experiences in talking situations. There will come a time when you can go for “fluency” but when fear and anxiety exists or turbulence hits, we have the well practiced tools to “change gears”, and cope with the situation.
  • Being “people pleasers” putting the needs of others always ahead of ours, agreeing, being door mats, being passive. In the book “The Disease to Please” by Harriet Braiker the author believes the people pleasing trait, even though it sounds nice and sweet, is a serious psychological co-dependency condition. People pleasing is often a trait of PWS negatively affecting our self-esteem, self-confidence and our ability to communicate effectively.

Effective treatment therefore requires the PWS to be empowered to take ownership of their own recovery but then access resources such as the McGuire Programme, speech pathologists, psychologists, life coaches, social workers, self-development programmes and other self-development activities by attending courses, reading, listening to CDs, etc.

Our stuttering does not define who we are. It is just a negative behaviour resulting from our reaction to events in our world either current or in the past. Recent studies have shown that the brain has great plasticity and the ability to change patterns from the past is very achievable.

Is stuttering genetic, physiological, neurological or psychological? To be honest I don’t much care. I do know that the goal of effective communication can be attained by brave and persistent work and that recovery is a reality for many, many people. Knowing the root cause of something doesn’t mean that it will solve the puzzle. It is far more effective to look at the decisions that one makes RIGHT NOW TODAY as they will affect one’s future and quality of life.

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