Talking therapy can be a barrier

The article's author, Byron Ford

14th December 2020

When most therapy options for mental health involve talking, this can be a major issue when you stammer, Byron Ford highlights.

From roughly the age of five, I have had a stammer. I am now 29. I remember as a child getting so frustrated because I couldn't say what I wanted to, and that frustration grew more and more into my teens. 

I remember when I was in English class in year 10 and the teacher wanted me to read a passage from a book aloud. This was my worst nightmare. I started one word and on the second I froze; I had a block, one of the worst blocks I've ever had in my life. The more I tried to push through it, the worse it became. Then came the laughing, the whispering and the humiliation. I had enough. I walked out of class and broke down crying in the school halls. 

I thought what kind of dad am I if I can't even read my daughter a bedtime story? 

One teacher saw me and asked me what was wrong, but again I physically couldn't say anything, so I had to write it down. But they didn't understand because everyone takes being fluent for granted. No one understood and no one could help me. I felt alone, worthless and I hated myself. This feeling continued with me for the majority of my life, through high school, through college, through university and sometimes even now. 

Seeking therapy

I had my daughter when I was 18. When she turned one I couldn't even read her a bedtime story. I stammered so much I could barely say my daughter's name. I felt so low, depressed and suicidal as I thought what kind of dad am I if I can't even read my daughter a bedtime story? 

I decided to go to the doctors because I realised this wasn't healthy. But again, I couldn't physically talk to him so I had to resort to writing it on my phone and showing him. He referred me to the mental health team. 

This is a massive barrier...especially when you are only allocated an hour — in that time I would probably only be able to say one paragraph worth of words.

Every therapy I have encountered requires talking. Now, this is a massive barrier for someone with speech and language difficulties, especially when you are only allocated an hour — in that time I would probably only be able to say one paragraph worth of words. I was desperately looking for a cure to stammering, but of course, to no avail. 

Counselling didn't work for me because I felt worse coming out than I did going in, solely because of my speech. I thought I was broken; I thought I was the only one who had something 'wrong' with them. 

Online therapy

But over time I started to realise that nobody is perfect — everyone has their demons to fight, either visible or invisible. A stammer is just something I need to work on and take my time on, and not allow myself to be rushed. Just like someone with anxiety, I might struggle to get out of the front door. No one is perfect, so why pretend to be? 

Yes, physical talking therapy didn't work for me, but I have since had online therapy. That requires no talking. I feel it should be a mixture of the both, but that is in an ideal world. Talking therapy can be amazing, but when you're somebody who stammers, it can be a barrier. 

Stammering is perceived as such a negative thing in today's society, but the more blogs and articles we write, the more stories in which we talk about our experiences, the more society will realise our struggles are real. 

Note: Some NHS services offer group cognitive behaviour therapy courses, which don't always involve a lot of speaking. Talking things through in a speech and language therapy setting may make things easier for some, and most speech and language therapists offer the opportunity to do this. See our Therapies & courses section for details on how you can contact your local NHS and private speech & language therapy services. 

You can talk to us too — we have a free, confidential support service run by people who know what it's like to stammer. Call our free helpline on 0808 802 002 or click here to start a webchat. Both are open weekdays from 10am-12noon and 6pm-8pm.

If you find talking therapy difficult, you could try the Stammering Self-empowerment Programme, a completely online-based course for people aged 16+.

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