I was really nervous the day I boarded my airplane for Norfolk, Virginia. I was beginning to have second thoughts - why was I doing this? What did I really know about this Ross Barrett and his stuttering therapy program? I was traveling hundreds of miles to a strange city where I had never been before and knew no one. What if it turned out to be a bust? But just wait a minute.
Ross had sounded sincere on the telephone, and he was an instructor at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. The materials and information he had sent me were unique - Ross did not treat stuttering as a psychological problem, but simply as a learned behavior that could be modified. He did not promise a "magic cure." He did say that if I was willing to work hard at learning what he referred to as “targets”, fluency would follow. It was worth a shot.
This was not my first attempt to “cure” my stuttering. My stuttering problem was probably not as severe as some, but it still bothered me a lot. I had stuttered much more in the past, particularly in high school, but had a good experience with a local speech therapist. My fluency did improve.
I was now in medical school and needed to become as fluent as possible. It was difficult for me to concentrate on my studies since I was so worried about stuttering in front of the doctors ("the ultimate authority figures") and my classmates.
As soon as I walked into Ross's office that Monday morning, I was extremely impressed. Ross was friendly and concerned, but wasted little time with pleasantries. We immediately began our work… and I do mean work!
We started working everyday at 9:00 a.m. and did not stop until 4:30 p.m. Our days consisted of twenty-minute sessions spent on practice in individual rooms interspersed with ten-minute "transfer" sessions. These transfer sessions were where we practiced our newly learned targets with the other people in my group. These targets Ross was teaching us were quite simply specific muscle movement patterns which when used, resulted in fluent speech. I still remember how sore my throat was the first couple of days, since I was exercising previously misused voice muscles.
Before I knew it, the program was over. I had made many new friends and had totally changed my outlook on stuttering and my life in general. I had spent hours practicing my targets in simple telephone conversations and in local shopping malls. Ross told me that therapy would not end after I returned home and I gradually reduced my formal practice to once a week or so. Now, several years later, I only occasionally need to get my manuals back out and practice formally.
Returning home with loads of confidence in my speaking ability, I did something that previously would have been unthinkable. I joined Toastmasters International, an organization where members learn public speaking skills and put them to use. Before this program, I would have never considered joining anything like this. Public speaking was something I avoided at all costs.
Well, here I am seven years later, and my fluency has continued to improve. Ross has given me the skills and confidence to get on with my life in spite of stuttering. I now frequently give presentations and conferences at work, and feel much more at ease on the telephone. Sure, I have been nervous and there have been times when I did not monitor my targets as well as I should have, but I was able to control my speech and not be controlled by it. It even has gotten to the point that I actually have begun to enjoy standing up at the lectern speaking, making jokes, entertaining the audience, and being in control of my fluency.
Sometimes, I look back and wonder how in the world I ever got to the point where I am. Well, it is easily explained by hard work, determination, and most of all, a stuttering therapy program that works.
David Osborn, MD