Edel Reel, left, at work in Mc Evoy's shop in Newry Picture by Bill Smyth

Stammering: One woman’s story of taking back control

Original Article via The Irish Times: http://bit.ly/23ed5pX

From being unable to leave her house alone to being able to read at Mass, Co Armagh woman Edel Reel’s life has been transformed thanks to a course aimed at those who stutter. She told Jenny Lee about it

Singer Gareth Gates has undertaken the McGuire Programme to help him manage his stammer

Singer Gareth Gates has undertaken the McGuire Programme to help him manage his stammer

AS A teenager Edel Reel’s life was ruled by her stammer. Unable to say her own name, she left school at the age of 15 with no formal qualifications.

Since then, however, thanks to a programme which has helped her overcome her fears, Edel is now taking control of her life again.

Stammering – or stuttering – is a relatively common speech problem in childhood but can also persist into adulthood. It is estimated that one in every 100 adults has a stammer; it varies in severity from person to person; often, people find that they have periods of stammering followed by times when they speak relatively fluently.

Stammering usually occurs at the beginning of speech and people will often avoid certain words or speaking situations to try to hide it. This was certainly true of Edel who despite reacting positively to speech therapy as a child, regressed during her teenage years. She admits that growing up with a stutter was “extremely difficult”.

“I got to the stage where I couldn’t say my name. I used to call myself El,” says the 23-year-old. However, unlike many who stutter, she didn’t suffer bullying at school.

“I was lucky that I was in a small class. We were all close – they always helped me out when they saw me struggling with my name or a challenging situation.

It was the simple things that teenagers enjoy, such as going into a takeaway and ordering food, that Edel was unable to do. She would always carry paper and pen with her in order to write down what she wanted to say.

Stammering is fuelled by fear, stress and anxiety and as she progressed in secondary school Edel’s difficulties returned with more severity.

“I was so stressed and felt I needed to get out of school,” recalls Edel. So she left school early and was delighted to find employment in McEvoy’s drapery in Newry.

“I loved it. It was just a new change and my speech was good for a while. However, it got worse again and I physically couldn’t talk,” she says.

Then, just before her stammer forced her to quit her job too, a chance meeting with a customer gave her hope. “He told me he knew a guy who did a course for people who stammer and that it had really helped him.”

That course was the McGuire Programme, founded in 1994 by Dave McGuire, an American with Co Fermanagh ancestors who stammers himself.

The treatment programme focuses on the psychology of having a stammer, addressing the problem through concentration, assertiveness and non-avoidance. It also teaches sufferers to use costal breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) as a way to control speech. This type of breathing, often used by opera singers, involves taking deeper, longer breaths.

McGuire Programme graduates include Pop Idol singer Gareth Gates, Wet Wet Wet guitarist Graeme Duffin and the Scottish international rugby union captain, Kelly Brown.

More than 1,700 people have enrolled on the programme in Ireland since it began here in 1996. Courses are held in venues including Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Galway. Joe O’Donnell, the programme’s regional director in Ireland, believes its success lies in its emphasis on ongoing coaching and support and the fact that all the tutors are people who stammer and who have been through the programme themselves.

“It’s more than a three-day course. Each student is assigned a coach to work on a one-to-one basis over the phone once or twice a day. There are also fortnightly support group meetings held in 13 locations throughout Ireland and refresher days held once every three months.”

The McGuire Programme takes a holistic approach that treats stuttering not so much as a problem with speech but more an issue with how we relate to people and the world around us.

“People who stammer are non-assertive people. They agree with everyone else’s opinion as they don’t want to voice their own opinion just in case they start to stammer,” says Joe.

Each course ends by the class going into the busy city centre and each participant having to stand on a box and give a speech in public – similar to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, London.

“It’s all about going outside your comfort zone and being assertive. Once you stay still in life, you are going to move backwards. As human beings we are reluctant to change things about ourselves but everyone on the McGuire Programme is encouraged to continually expand their comfort zones and change things in their lives,” adds Joe.

Edel saved up to pay for the course by working in a cafe, where she was involved in limited customer service.

“I wanted to do this course badly, so I worked hard. But once again my stammer got worse and I had to give up my job. I couldn’t say anything at all and three months before I was due to do the course I was so bad that I was afraid to leave my house alone.”

However, she summoned up the courage to travel to Cork for her three-day-course in May 2012 and on reflection says: “It is the best thing I have ever done.”

Eighteen months ago she returned to working as a sales assistant in McEvoy’s drapery in Newry, where her former colleagues were surprised by the transformation in both her speech and her confidence.

“The programme is not a cure. I am always going to have a stammer and I still have bad days, but now I have more good days than bad days. The biggest change is my confidence and being able to stand up for myself.”

Edel has now read at Mass and is constantly challenging herself by embracing her feared words and situations, with a radio interview next on her to-do list.

There is no quick fix to tackling her speech impediment and Edel engages in daily exercises, as well as attending regular support meetings.

“I read for 10 minutes in order to warm up my diaphragm, as our diaphragm sleeps when we sleep. I also have to do 20 minutes’ costal breathing every morning and every time we speak we take a costal breath. It’s a lot of hard work, but the more work you put in the more you get out of it.”

:: For further information about the McGuire Programme and forthcoming courses see stammering.ie

Newspaper Writes About James Taking Control Of His Stutter.

James Caplan, 44, works full time as a managing director for a financial advice agency based in Pynnacles Close, Stanmore, employing 29 staff and managing two offices and he has a stutter!!

After going from avoiding his children’s sports days to studying to become a coach, one man hopes to inspire his fellow stammerers to take control of their lives as he has done.

Bushey man James Caplan, 44, works full time as a managing director for a financial advice agency based in Pynnacles Close, Stanmore, employing 29 staff and managing two offices.

But despite this, the high flyer who is married and has three children has suffered from a stammer for most of his childhood.

He said: “I first noticed it as a child. It was more overt then so I was stumbling on lots of different words, a more traditional type of stammer.

“A lot of people start of as overt but they develop lots of tricks to get over it, so for example I never used to use words with the letter B.

“My parents took me to elocution lessons and speech therapy but they only seemed to work for the short term.

“I let the anxiety and anger build up inside of me for years and years by trying to hide it and avoiding certain situations, you almost feel like a prisoner.”

By developing the tricks and avoiding certain words, he was able to hide his speech disorder from many friends, colleagues and clients – but one day realised enough was enough.

He added: “The speech became all too much, the tricks that I was using every day were just failing, the anxiety was just building up and continually not saying what you want to say and when you want to say it is so frustrating.

“I avoided so many things like I never went to my children’s sports day because I didn’t want to be perceived as someone with a stammer.

“I was asked to do a speech at my best friend 40th birthday and I had a fully prepared speech avoiding all the b-words and using my tricks, practiced it endlessly, but the two weeks leading up to the party gave me sleepless nights.

“I text her, I couldn’t even call her about it, and said I can’t do this. At that point I decided enough was enough, I needed to do something about it.”

With the support of his family and having carried out years of research on speech therapies, Mr Caplin decided to sign up for a lifetime membership of the McGuire Programme which featured in the Channel 4 documentary Stammer School.

The programme deals with physical techniques to improve fluency and also identifies and teaches the mechanics and dynamics of speaking.

Techniques to improve concentration and assertiveness and to face potentially difficult situations also form part of the programme.

Mr Caplan says the four-day course has helped him to go to events he previously would never have dreamed of attending – from company golf days to going out for dinner with clients or attending parties.

He said: “It’s been completely life changing. If you could imagine waking up every single morning and the first thought that enters your head isn’t something like ‘why is my son jumping on my head at 6am’ but instead is ‘what will my speech be like today?’ that is what it was like before.

“It is a function as basic as breathing but not being able to say what you what and when you want is so frustrating.

“The course has changed everything – it’s made me a much calmer and happier person, my wife says I’m much less angry now.

“Because I’ve benefited so much so much for it I can’t wait to give something back. It’s a big difference to putting your hand in your pocket, but signing up to be a coach means I can make sure that other stammerers take the action they need.”

Having spent six weeks studying, Mr Caplan will now attend a coaching course in Newcastle next weekend in his bid to become a McGuire coach and wants to inspire other stammerers – there are around 640,000 in the UK or one per cent of the population – to stop living in fear and take action.

He added: “If they can’t deal with it and they realise they were living a lie, which is ultimately what I was doing, I would recommend to speak to one of the regional directors.

“They can put them in touch with other people who have been on the course, come and observe a session and really take a chance- what have you got to lose?”

Conquering Their Fear Of Stammering In Dublin

On Saturday 25th July 2015, 32 members of the McGuire Programme attended a Refresher Day in Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin to further their journey towards articulate, eloquent speech. 10 of these had attended their first McGuire Programme course only 4 weeks ago.

During the day we practiced and drilled the physical weapons to counteract the freezing, struggle and distortion and the psychological weapons to counteract the fear, panic and sense of isolation. Everyone got opportunities to take the floor and actively take part in presenting different aspects of the programme.

We also hit the streets of Dublin to push out our comfort zones by talking to many strangers and work on our feared words and situations. Everyone worked really hard to overcome their stammer by showing great discipline, courage and perseverance.

While the majority of members were hitting the streets, a few members stayed behind and ran an Open Information Day to explain to the public what the McGuire Programme has to offer. All of these members spoke with passion and discipline.

There was great interest from the members of the public about our programme and a few signed up for the next course there and then.

Our next course is in Belfast from 21st to 24th October 2015.

If you stammer/stutter and really want to do something about it, then look no further!

Overcoming A Stammer

Hospital doctor Constantin Manole developed a stammer when he moved to Ireland as a child, but with the help of a new programme, he has learned to view it from a new perspective.

Constantin Manole is my name. I am 22 years old and originally from Romania. I have recently begun working as a hospital doctor – a role that has been challenged in many ways by my stammer.

As you can imagine, mine might be a daunting profession for a person with a speech difficulty as it involves a huge amount of verbal communication. That is certainly how I felt until a short time ago.

Until the age of 10, I never had any issues or difficulties with my speech. Then, I moved to Ireland from Romania, and within about a year, I began to experience infrequent blocks on certain words. Looking back, I think the cause was definitely the transition to speaking in English. I would often rush and not give myself time to speak and to think, and tried to keep up with the fast native English speakers.

I used to worry a lot about what my English sounded like and how easily other people would understand me. At the time, I was not really bothered by a stammer. For example, I had no problem reading aloud fluently in class. It’s only when I entered my last years of secondary school, around age 17 or 18, that I became more self-conscious, and realised that something was not quite right with my speech.

The pressure suddenly intensified when I entered medical school. I was confronted with a lot of new situations, such as having to speak in front of groups and making reports and phone calls to doctors on the wards. I firmly believed that if people noticed I did not speak confidently, or even “blocked” on words, I would be seen as less competent than my colleagues.

This led to me holding back from speaking in a lot of situations, and frequently using tricks, such as word substitution and avoidance of phone calls or group discussions.

I managed to cope with this situation, but I knew it was causing me a lot of stress, and was preventing me from enjoying my time in college as much as I should, and more importantly might affect my job later on.

I did not know how to describe the difficulties I was having with my speech, as I thought they were due to things like shyness or lack of confidence.It was only after watching The King’s Speech that I realised this was a problem other people had as well. I told my parents about my difficulties for the first time. I even visited my GP and told him about the problem. He put me in touch with a speech therapist called Jonathan Linklater and I arranged a consultation.

The experience for me was groundbreaking. As soon as I walked in, I instantly felt like all the fear was gone and I could speak freely. While there I talked for over an hour, without experiencing a single block. It was then that I realised the problem was mainly psychological.

I learned about the concept of having a stammer, which was something I would definitely not classified myself as having. I always believed that a stammer meant having visible difficulty saying a word, whereas in my case, the word would simply not come out so I would use another instead, and I would always sound fluent to a listener. I certainly never knew about the psychological side of it.

I began to do my own research, and eventually learned about the McGuire Programme.

After watching a documentary on YouTube and buying Dave McGuire’s book, I applied to a course in the summer of 2013. The course essentially focuses on two things: teaching a way to control your speech using breathing and pauses, and working through the psychological side of having a stammer.

It is entirely run and organised by people who themselves have had problems with stammering, but have now controlled it and become incredibly eloquent speakers.

After the very first day, I could see the difference having a good physical technique made to my speech. On the course, for the first time in over a decade, I felt like I could truly express myself confidently, and realised how much stress I was putting myself through by trying to hide my stammer. I even met other doctors who had a stammer and excelled in their careers.

I have since been to many more of the courses, and having been helped so much by the excellent support network. I recently became certified as a coach myself.

During my last college year, I gave many presentations to my class, some of which I volunteered for. I underwent my final clinical exams in medicine, and for the first time, I felt like I spoke confidently and was on my way to sounding like a professional.

The one piece of advice I would give to a person challenged by a stammer is to tackle their feared speaking situations. This is something the McGuire Programme encourages. Our stammer, no matter how mild or severe, will only hold us back as much as we allow it. Being a good communicator doesn’t mean being completely fluent, or speaking like everyone else.

We should always push our boundaries. The worst that can happen is, we’ll feel very uncomfortable for a little while. No matter the outcome, it lets us take charge, and we’ll become stronger because of it.

Finally, the most important thing of all, is to accept yourself as a person who stammers. Don’t go through such great lengths to hide it from everyone. We always expect people to react negatively, but this is almost never the case. Stammering is very common, and many people know at least one person who is affected.

Doing something as simple as telling your classmates or your employer about it can take a lot of pressure and fear away from it.

We don’t necessarily fear a situation where we have to speak, but we fear the possibility of stammering.

Being honest about it will take away a lot of that fear, and also make us more satisfied because we’re truly being honest with ourselves.

48 Hours Later . . .

Another McGuire Programme intensive 3 day course finished but it is only the beginning of the life changing journey for 16 brave people who stutter – and who now have control over their stutters. The McGuire Programme has been changing the lives of people who stutter all over the world for over 20 years. I feel really proud to play an active part in changing the lives of people of all ages who stutter and I was given the pleasure of instructing my 5th McGuire Intensive Course over a beautiful June weekend in Salthill, Galway, Ireland.

Sixteen people who stutter joined us on the Wednesday night for the introduction session. They were a mixed bunch of people from all walks of life, aged between 13 and 74 years of age. Six of the new students were under the age of 18 and 4 were female – 25% female to 75% male. The majority (75%) were overt stutterers and the rest (25%) were covert.

I have to say that this was an exceptional and very emotional course to instruct. The new students with the help of the returning coaches and graduate members displayed great discipline inside and outside the main conference room. Some emotions got the better of people but that was not out of frustration but out of seer determination and seeing themselves change right before their own eyes.  Something they didn’t thing was possible until now.

Some of the new students told me after the closing speeches that they are so happy that they made the decision to attend and to join – some of these new students were apprehensive on the Wednesday night before the sessions began and even thought about turning full circle and going home before arriving at the hotel. I’m so happy they pushed themselves forward.

For those of you reading this that don’t know much about the programme, I will give you a bit of an insight. The McGuire Programme gives people who stutter the skills, techniques, ability and confidence to go from stuttering out of control to being able to do the things in life that people take for granted – speakingbut not only that, it transfer them into articulate eloquent speakers in full control of their stutters.

And another important thing to mention is that everyone involved in the programme is a person who stutters, who have themselves gone through the programme and have gained control of their own stutters and continual return to attend intensive refreshers courses in order to give something back and help the new students while still helping themselves on their own journeys.

The aim of the programme, as the book title states is to go ‘Beyond Stuttering’ and to deal with all the freezing, all the struggle, the distortions, and the many tricks and avoidances of a person who stutters and replace these behaviours with powerful, eloquent and articulate speech.

So, if you are considering joining this wonderful programme, the next McGuire Programme Ireland Three Day Intensive Course will be held in Belfast this coming October 2015. And if you are seriously thinking about attending and doing something proactive about your stutter and your stuttering behaviour, then please contact the Regional Director, Joe O’Donnell.

You won’t be disappointed.

Emmet O’Connell, Course Instructor & Regional Director McGuire Programme Deutschland