1st August 2023
John Carling tells us about discovering holistic approaches and how they help with mental health.
*The following is adapted from a phone interview we did with John. If you'd like to contribute something but find typing or writing difficult, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can work out other ways you can share your story or experiences.
I started having speech & language therapy in my teens, when my stammer was very severe, and carried on into my twenties. But I didn't find it very helpful. It was largely based on learning speech techniques and I didn't feel it helped with the psychological issues I was experiencing.
I had jobs back then, mainly in administration, but I was developing diabetes and asthma which started to make work difficult. My employers weren't very supportive and as a result, the stress and pressure was making my physical conditions worse. I was stammering more, which affected my anxiety. I started having panic attacks and depression, and had to take lots of time off sick. It all came to a head when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown which caused me to eventually stop working.
My parents were upset that they couldn't help me. Having to focus on my mental and physical health really affected my friendships and relationships too. This made me feel more anxious about speaking to people.
Discovering other types of therapies
After a while, when I felt ready again, I starting working in voluntary and casual positions. Then I got a part time job at a mental health charity, which was more suitable for me. They were much more supportive of my stammer and through that job I found out about other types of therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), neuro-linguistic programming and counselling. These were a revelation — rather than concentrating on the physical side of things, they were instead looking at psychological aspects, which were much more effective for me. They gave me the chance to talk to people about how I'm feeling mentally.
...rather than concentrating on the physical side of things, they were instead looking at psychological aspects, which were much more effective for me. They gave me the chance to talk to people about how I'm feeling mentally.
Throughout my 30s and 40s I've acquired other conditions including arthritis in my spine and leg ulcers, and I find it hard to use computers. I moved down to the South Coast eight and a half years ago. In Hertfordshire, where I was living before, services were being cut back but down here I found there was more help available with psychological therapies. When I moved, I went to my new GP and they referred me to a recovery and wellness clinic, and from there I've been able to get regular help.
How psychological therapies help
I find psychological therapies really help me to work on stress and anxiety management. I've worked through some things with the counsellors and come up with strategies which I use a lot. One of the things I've learnt is to not take on too many things in my life. If I get into a panic about things I now have steps to help me cope. As well as that, I find that working on my breathing and pausing helps too. I did a bit of that in speech & language therapy but I also work on it outside of therapy. I also go to spiritual relaxation and meditation groups at a nearby church, which have also been really helpful, although I find it difficult to do a full meditation.
...don't think of therapy as being about 100% speech techniques. You can work on other important things too, like anxiety.
As a result of doing all this, I have found that my stammer has reduced as I've got older. I still have moments where stammering catches me by surprise, such as if someone I don't know stops and asks me for the time in the street, or when I'm asking for something in a shop. I find that if I've got a cold which affects my chest, or if I have a flare-up with my arthritis, I stammer more. But psychological therapies have really helped me address things and I feel more comfortable with my stammer.
Try other options
What would I say to anyone reading this? I'd say that if anyone has found that traditional speech therapy hasn't really helped them, there are other options. There are things which take a more holistic approach too. Also, speech therapy services can be limited, with reduced services in places, so see what else is available.
I'd say don't think of therapy as being about 100% speech techniques. You can work on other important things too, like anxiety. Psychological therapies helped me address those and get a rational perspective on my anxieties which has helped me to cope with them.
Going to a wide range groups and meeting people has helped too. I first joined STAMMA, or the British Stammering Association as it then was, back in 1991. Since then I've attended many of its open days, conferences and social events, and made connections. I also meet lots of people at the relaxation and meditation groups and have made a lot of friends who don't mind that I stammer.
Editor's note: As John says, addressing negative thoughts and feelings about stammering can help to change someone's outlook on their stammer. Speech & language therapy has moved on since John was teenager and many now do offer a more holistic approach, such as CBT. If you're having therapy and they're not already doing this, ask them about it. However, services can be limited, so if there isn't a service near you, ask your GP about talking therapies. See the NHS website for psychological therapies or counselling services. Chat with us if you'd like to talk to someone. Call our free helpline on 0808 802 0002 or start a webchat.