IT’S GOOD TO TALK: Margaret O’Brien who has successfully overcome her stammer. Picture: Dan Linehan

Finding her voice: How a mother of three finally overcame her lifelong stutter – aged 53

Internally she was silenced from a very young age, as those lengthy verbal pauses to pronounce words that contained the S or F sounds in particular, left her embarrassed by the responses of the other kids, “smirking and smiling” at her attempts to express herself.

It didn’t get any better as she got older: “As a teenager, I used to avoid the words that I stammered on and try and change the answer,” she tells Feelgood.

Eventually I became a covert stutterer; I tried to cover up that I had the stammer and thought nobody would see it, if I kept trying to veer conversation away. But there were an awful lot of drawbacks, as a result. I wouldn’t be able to start off a conversation with a new person for example; I was on my guard the whole time.

This continued into adulthood, through her marriage at age 22, the rearing of her three girls now aged 32, 30 and 25, and through separation and divorce. “It kept me from being myself, having my own opinions. I could never stand up for myself because I was constantly in fear of getting stuck by stammering, making a fool of myself. It was easier to keep my mouth shut, rather than speak up.”

But all that changed in October 2016, after Margaret attended a three-day intensive course called The McGuire Programme, run for people who stammer, by those who stammer themselves.

She first heard of the course several years back when English singer-songwriter, Gareth Gates, spoke about how he had conquered his own speech impediment through the programme, when interviewed by presenter Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

But it wasn’t until she hit her early 50s that Margaret plucked up the courage to do it. “At that stage, I was tired of not being me and being involved in other things. I wanted to be more confident — and I knew if I could speak properly I would have a lot more confidence,” she says.


IT’S GOOD TO TALK: Margaret O’Brien who has successfully overcome her stammer. Picture: Dan Linehan


But all that changed in October 2016, after Margaret attended a three-day intensive course called The McGuire Programme, run for people who stammer, by those who stammer themselves.

She first heard of the course several years back when English singer-songwriter, Gareth Gates, spoke about how he had conquered his own speech impediment through the programme, when interviewed by presenter Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

But it wasn’t until she hit her early 50s that Margaret plucked up the courage to do it. “At that stage, I was tired of not being me and being involved in other things. I wanted to be more confident — and I knew if I could speak properly I would have a lot more confidence,” she says.

“I think it was that stage of life… being the age I was. I just wanted to do something for me. A new start.”

Once on the course, it lived up to being an intensive one, with participants starting at 6am and not finishing until 10pm over each of the three days. She learned many tools to manage her stammer, including how she should take a deep breath to fill her lungs if she thought she was going to stumble over a word.

Afterwards, there was follow-up support by phone or Skype with others who had successfully gone through the programme — communication which still continues weekly, so they can practice their speech and talk about problems that might arise.

The fact that Margaret can even use the phone this way, is a huge leap forward.

Before I did the programme there wasn’t a hope I’d speak to anyone on the phone because I always stammered. I can answer the phone now and talk away, having a normal conversation.

She is also determined to continue her progress by putting herself in situations that challenge her to communicate, saying it is “all about practice, practice, practice.” The reward includes exploring a world from which she felt so excluded in the past.

“The past year and a half have given me a freedom I could only dream of,” she reveals. “I have challenged myself and believed in myself enough, to push myself into speaking situations that I never thought I would be able to do. I’m getting involved in a lot more things. I am the union rep now at work where I have to hold many conversations and do a lot of speaking.

“I entered the local Strictly Come Dancing competition for charity and am involved in The Kube competition, another fundraiser. I can ring for takeouts and order whatever I want on the menu. I can go up to someone now and show an interest in them and ask them questions, whereas before I would have been standing back.”

The everyday tasks that the majority of us carry out with ease, from practically toddler stage, now open up half a century later for this brave woman.

She has truly found her voice. “Yes, I have. And it’s brilliant. When I went on the course I was thinking ‘am I too old to be starting doing this?’”

But I realised you’re never too old to make changes in your life and to better yourself.

To find out more about the McGuire Programme check out

Brian Dempsey instructing the February 2018 course in Dublin

66,000 Steps To Control In Dublin – Overcoming Stuttering Together

Not everyone can relate to the physical struggle seen with a stutter but everyone can connect with raw emotion. The documentary in January did many things. It projected to millions how a person who stutters feels when they cannot say their own name or make a phone call in work. It revealed to stutterers what is possible through hard work and a little self-belief. Most importantly, it uncovered the “I’m the only person who stutters” myth and broke down that sense of isolation.

Eighteen very courageous people took the big step to finally gain control of their stutter in Dublin with the first Irish McGuire Programme course of the year. The course was held in the Ashling Hotel. The course commenced on Wednesday 21st of February and finished up at 7.30pm on Saturday 24th of February. Brian Dempsey – a Dublin native – instructed the course. Brian’s first course was November 2011 with Gareth Gates at the helm. Brian steered a tight ship and kept everyone energised throughout the 3 days. It was clear from Brian that discipline was going to be key during these next few days. “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments” became Mr Dempsey’s mantra during the course. The point was made that to break bad habits of a lifetime, discipline is going to be the cornerstone to success.

Around sixty graduates, coaches and course instructors (returning members) came back to help improve their own speech but also to teach and support the new students’ progress during the course.

Although there are many things that may separate the new students, they all share the one drive and determination for a better life, no longer controlled by their stutter. The younger new students were a breath of fresh air. They showed that a wise head really can sit on young shoulders.

Eighteen people took that first big step to control, and they all did fantastic. It was a pleasure to see them all grow and progress in confidence as the course continued. They now have the techniques and the support to help them improve and become the people they have always wanted to be whether it is speaking in church, making a speech or finally ordering what they want to order in a restaurant. Sometimes it’s the little things in life! Here’s to taking those steps to success (however little or big).

Cormac King

McGuire Programme member, Puja Pietarila now living in Finland originally from Nepal. Puja joined the programme in June 2016 in Düsseldorf and attended her 02.McGuire course (Refresher Course) in Berlin in October 2016.

Why Was It So Hard To Get The Words Out?

After my second intensive McGuire course in Berlin, Germany, I feel energetic, gratitude, normal, loved, inspired.

I’ve been stuttering since I was around 7. I’m now 36 years old, mother of 2 girls: aged 8 and 6. Just to get it straight, none of my family members stutter, neither my siblings nor my parents. At school, I dreaded raising my hand to answer questions or give comments. I would rather take the beating. Reading English text aloud in the classroom was one of my biggest fears. Oh! Why was it so hard to get the words out? Why couldn’t I read fluently without blocks like when reading aloud to myself? I didn’t understand. I was lucky to have had great (girl) friends who never teased me during my school days. I studied in a boarding school for 9 years in Pokhara, Nepal.

Fast-forward – after working for 13 years in Finland as a software engineer, I quit my job last April. I really wanted to integrate my software experience with my business studies. But every time when some job description (non software related) excited me, one concern always remained – Can I speak?

I had heard of McGuire programme already back in 2000 when I was studying in Australia. Well, after watching how people spoke on the street, I was in denial. My stutter didn’t seem so bad like the ones in the programme! The thought of joining the programme didn’t cross my mind then.

Recently, one day I caught myself telling my husband – “I would do anything if I knew there was a chance and I really wanted it”. Then, at that moment I realised, how I was living in denial. I have had this stutter and hadn’t done much for it. It was even becoming a hinderance to my future job. Now, enough was enough. I was ready to face my challenge and take action. After all, I was doing it for MYSELF and not to someone else. So I started to google “McGuire Programme”. I also had another motivation to join the Programme. I was interviewed by a startup company for technical salesperson position.

Back then (around May – June) I really wanted that job. Coincidentally, during that time, I had also come up with a startup idea. To pitch my idea, I knew I had to speak with many people.

I am so glad that I contacted Emmet O’Connell. After knowing that the Programme will let me SAY what I WANTED to say without using tricks or filler words, I signed up. Finally, I was ready to let go of my shame and fear. Of course, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into but it felt so right!

My first intensive McGuire course in Dusseldorf, Germany last June has changed me in so many ways. It’s just been 4 months, but during this time many new exciting things have happened. I am now enrolled in Startup Program in Tampere, Finland and given 3 speeches in Toastmasters. I’ve made many phone calls and have had meetings with investors and prospect customers. McGuire Programme helped break down the walls I had built around me. I am so thankful to the coaches who gave me their time to speak with me. Especially, I would like to thank my primary coach, Bart van den Berg. Mary Moorehead (Ireland), thank you for being there when I was let down and for your presence. You are always wonderful to talk to.

“Anything that is usually a means to an end, make it into an end in itself.” – Eckhart Tolle. “The Power of Now”, book by Eckhart Tolle has helped me understand the deeper meaning of life and is helping me tackle the psychological factors of my stutter. In my opinion, it complements McGuire teachings perfectly. I highly recommend you to read this book, if you haven’t already. Anyone, including those who don’t have a stutter can learn to live in presence by reading this book.

In my second course in Berlin, I noticed some changes in myself. I was no longer asking questions like in my first course. I was comfortable practising deliberate dysfluency. I was thankful that I had decided to join the program in my “make up mind” session in Dusseldorf. I was inspired to see improvements of returning graduates. As a bonus, the number of Facebook friends jumped after the Berlin course 🙂 Emmet, it is really a great experience to take the class from someone who is so passionate about what he does! Thank you once again for the great course and the effort you put in.

Let us not get wrapped up in our own life situations. Let us not compare ourselves with others. Remember that “if ego can’t be the best it wants to be the worst” (Eckhart Tolle). So let us try to live aligned with our inner presence and practice McGuire techniques 🙂 There will be ups and downs but if the anchor is in the right place, we won’t get lost…

How Embracing My Stutter Gave Me a New Lease on Life

Patrick Hanlon Food and travel writer, blogger, 1/2 of gastrogays, London by way of Dublin!

As I sat in a university lecture, my breathing was shallow and fast, my palms sweaty and my heart raced as one-by-one my classmates stood up to speak. This scene played out countless times before but the panic, fear and anxiety intensified each time this situation came around. I looked down at the book and the literature review I had written on the book. Nervously I agitated in my seat. Any semblance of confidence I once had in my own ability was on the floor and soon it would be my turn.

As my fear escalated, my focus and determination simultaneously vanished. ‘Just take it in your stride,’ I told myself. I was visibly uncomfortable, like always, and was consumed with the fear of being ‘found out’, of being seen as stupid and incompetent, of being pitied, of being a stammerer. Then it came: “Patrick Hanlon, you’re next to speak…”

“Ah…..muh……th….I….I”, I couldn’t even begin by stating the title of my report in front of my class, let alone eloquently broadcast the key points of the report like everyone else before and after me. My mind raced as I tried to conjure up different ways to communicate what I simply couldn’t get to leave my lips. Every trick and avoidance mechanism I tried to use failed me. If I could have physically run away, I would have; I was running away in my mind. After five excruciating minutes of broken sounds, non-words, speech blocks and facial struggle, I had to ask red-faced and humiliated to stop. I finished my 1,000 word report after one sentence.

As I sat in my college seminar waiting to be called to speak, I didn’t know it but that marked my lowest point. I was losing a lifetime battle I had to endure and at that point I was honestly ready to give up. I’ve suffered from a stutter my entire life and this was everyday life for me, and for so many others like me. Quietly fighting an internal war with yourself and avoiding situations, words and sounds. Choosing how to phrase things. Reaching for different tricks and coping mechanisms. Things as banal as saying your name at Starbucks, ordering a dish off the menu at a restaurant or answering the phone can be the most excruciating.

A stutter, or stammer, is a speech impediment that affects around 1% of the world’s population. You probably know loosely what it is and you might have come across stutterers every so often in your life. Maybe you’ve followed Pop Idol singer Gareth Gates’ speech difficulties or watched the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech. You might have been glued to the Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary Educating Yorkshire and cried tears at school boy Musharaf’s speech breakthrough.

Living with a stutter is really tough. I’m sometimes asked by fluent speakers what stuttering feels like and I explain it like being blind but with occasional glimpses of perfect 20/20 vision, or being deaf and having small, random spurts of crystal-clear hearing. A stutter is a beast and a real battle between physical and mental state. No two stutters are the same. There is a scale of covert (practically unrecognisable) to overt (incredibly obvious) but even day-to-day how a stutter interrupts your life can be drastically different from person to person. Good days and bad days come and go, but the constant is that your stutter is always there.

I’m a freelance writer, and I spent my entire life battling a stutter, sailing turbulently along and calling at many ports of speech therapy and different teachings and techniques. At 21, the same day of that excruciating scene described above, I found a lifeline in The McGuire Programme, an immersive, intense speech therapy programme run by people who stutter for people who stutter, combining a new way of breathing (from the costal diaphragm, not the crural – which we use naturally) and a transformative mentality. It works for some people, it doesn’t for others and it’s certainly not a quick fix or an easy ride.

Though, I need to assure you: people who stutter are some of the funniest, most intelligent, sharpest and confident people I know. I’ve met hundreds of them. Take it from me, they’re rarely shy, nervous or unsure of what they want to say and some even have comedic timing to rival the best in the business. Unfortunately, before they can communicate what their brain is thinking, their stutter interrupts the process, gets in the way and can often step them in their tracks. But you don’t have to live this out of control way…

I still battle my stutter every day, I will for life. You never lose a stutter. It doesn’t go away and there’s no definitive ‘cure’ – no matter what Google might lead you to believe. What you can do, though, is change your perceptions and mentality and take on board different ways to go about living with a stammer so that it’s no longer an issue that dictates the everyday. My life has been transformed and I live how I never thought I could, never forgetting where I’ve come from as I work hard and confidently on my speech every day in my quest for eloquence and a comfortable level of fluency. So, I want to share three insights on how you can too.

Lean In

So, there’s a common saying in social work: ‘lean in to the discomfort’, and the same applies here. Whatever makes you uncomfortable, explore it, pull it apart and understand it. When you see the sum of its parts, it’s not so scary any more. Sure, there will always be other scary things lurking around the corner, but having a mentality that you can tackle anything, that you’re bigger than what scares you, and that you’re a strong and confident person will ensure that you’re prepared for whatever comes your way. A stutter seems physical and it is – our diaphragm and speaking system freezes in the face of fear – but really 90% of it is mental. Re-assess how you approach situations, what your mentality is and how you relate to yourself.

Feel The Fear and Do it Anyway

Ask a person who stutters what makes them most uncomfortable and many will say something like ‘blocking and struggling in front of strangers’, ‘stuttering in front of my kids’, ‘being seen as stupid, inferior or incompetent by my work colleagues’ – always anxious and worried about how the ‘listener’ is perceiving you, yet the biggest focus needs to be on how you as a person experiences your own speech. Why are you speaking thinking about everyone else? The only thing that matters is how you feel when communicating. Susan Jeffers’ book Feel The Fear and Do it Anyway is well worth anyone reading.

Be proactive

To use another common expression, ‘play to win’. Don’t go through life dodging obstacles that get in your way and waiting for the next wave to hit. Power through the wave. Tackle opposition head-on. Look a challenge in the eye and see it through. You have no idea how much confidence you’ll gain from having a proactive, rather than reactive, mentality.

Do you see a common thread? It can be summed up in one word: embrace. Uncomfortable and difficult, I know, but when you embrace something fully it becomes less and less of an issue. Most people who stutter will tell you it’s the one aspect of their lives they despise and hate even thinking about or showing anyone. But here’s the crux: you need to break it apart, build up your confidence step-by-step and live the way you want to. You have to walk through that big scary door that’s stopping you and face your fears.

Don’t force yourself to live in fear when there’s a whole wide world out there, a world waiting to hear what you have to say.

Irish martial arts instructor conquers stammer

My name is Jamie Googan and I am proud to say that I am challenged by stammering.

As a child growing up with a severe stammer, I always wondered why I spoke in a different way from other students and why they would laugh at me when I tried desperately to pronounce my own name.

I was always self-conscious of my speech and what I was going to say. One of my biggest emotional struggles came from growing up without being able to say my own name without stammering; something that most people take for granted. I would always avoid situations where I would have to talk and sometimes even introduce myself using my older brother’s name to avoid stammering and being judged.

When I began martial arts at the age of five, from the moment I stepped inside that martial arts class, I knew it was for me. Martial arts offered me a place of personal freedom where I could be myself and not having to worry about being judged by anyone who was critical of my stammer.

From an early age, I became an expert at holding back and hiding my stammer, from changing my words, to using filler words, to ‘forgetting’ what I wanted to say. I struggled through primary and secondary school consistently worrying about my stammer being exposed and being judged by my peers.

When I heard about the McGuire Programme in 2008, for the first time in my life I could relate to people who had the same problem as I had. I knew that I was no longer alone and I was really impressed by how well each participant spoke. They spoke so confidently without any sign of struggle or avoidance. My parents really encouraged me to join, although it didn’t happen for another four years.

My first presentation in college was supposed to last five minutes but it lasted 28 minutes and from that shameful, embarrassing experience, I finally decided to join the course in Galway and over the first year of my recovery, I off-loaded most of the baggage that I carried for 21 years.

Recovery from stammering was not as easy as I had imagined but by giving it my best shot, using the back-up support network and being honest in my recovery, I continued to make further progress.

I found a new level of self-belief that I could have never imagined before. For the first time in my life, I found joy in speaking and communicating with others. I graduated from Cork Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Business in Sport and Exercise in 2015. The CIT Access Service played a vital role in my recovery from stammering and personal development, with one of only 13 assistive technology labs in the country. I availed of many supports such as academic writing skills, proofreading and a place where I could practice my presentation skills that played a big part in achieving my degree.

I now work with CIT’s Access Service where I help other students to be the best that they can be. Although I am challenged by stammering, with the right support network and work ethic, you can overcome any challenge as long as you believe in yourself.

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