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Cutting out the noise: a review

A review of the book: Mindfulness and Stuttering - Using Eastern Strategies to speak with greater ease, by Ellen-Marie Silverman, 158 pages, CreateSpace 2012

mindfulness

You’re about to order a meal, or maybe introduce yourself. You feel you might stutter. Your mind races away for a moment as you think about the need to make a good impression. You remember the times when you didn’t  - and the consequences if you don’t this time. Then suddenly it’s time to speak. But now you feel a bit disconnected. You stutter- and feel more disconnected still.

If this sounds familiar, it’s well worth taking some time to look though Mindfulness and Stuttering and consider a new way to control the power of thoughts and feelings over our speech. Mindfulness is a form of meditation where you learn to quieten the stream of negative self-talk and stay fully focussed in the present moment. How this unexpectedly helped Ellen-Marie Silverman manager her stuttering during the past 16 years, is the theme she explores in this memoir of meditation. As a speech and language therapist, she recognises that each person who stutters needs different tools and strategies to discover what works best for them.  ‘But why would you expect yet another approach to help when others haven’t?’ she says.  Her answer is simple: ‘Experiment thoughtfully and be patient. Changes occur in their own way.’

Mindfulness is now widely used as a tool to gain greater personal insight and awareness, though it is not a tool for trying to find out why you stutter. It has its roots in Buddhist meditation, with some of the techniques described in the book.  Take negative thoughts, for example. Rather than getting caught up in thinking that you might stutter, anticipating how you would feel, and what the other person would think, mindfulness teaches the skills to observe yourself stutter, observe your emotions, and then let go of them. There is much more to it, but that gives a sense of how it can be used as a tool to retrain our mental habits.

However, there is a deep tension running through the book. Is mindfulness a useful tool for speaking more easily, or is it a valuable practice in its own right, one that cannot be expected to deliver ‘results’?   But one thing is certain. Long-term change is a long-term process. Ellen-Marie describes how her practice of mindfulness deepened over many years as she discovered new dimensions of meditation, became more proficient in them, and gained much greater self-knowledge. Mindfulness also connects with the types of speech therapy that focus on self-acceptance and easy stuttering. ‘Until I applied the techniques of mindful self-observation and the tools for redirecting and calming my mind that mindfulness meditation teaches, I failed to satisfactorily put [self-acceptance and easy stuttering] into practice.’

So, is mindfulness a path to fluency? No. Can it help you to speak more easily? Maybe. Is it worth investing the time and self-discipline to practice the techniques each day for at least two months before you start to notice any changes? If you are curious about learning a new way to quieten negative thoughts, and to stay fully present to each person you are speaking with, Yes.

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