Yesterday, I was thinking about how exploring New Year's resolutions with our clients can give them the opportunity to talk about their goals--and that understanding their goals can help us to guide them toward greater success, both in and out of therapy.
Today, I am thinking a bit more about what we can do when we find that our clients are struggling. First, it's important to recognize that struggling during stuttering therapy is normal and expected. Changing speech behaviors and attitudes toward stuttering is hard. Often, it's harder than our clients expect it to be when they first come into therapy. Thus, it's not surprising for them to go through a time of wrestling with their beliefs and feelings about their stuttering--and about themselves. How do we help them through this?
The standard answer might be something like, "encourage them to work harder in therapy," or "give them additional assignments that will help them improve their skills," or "use the New Year as an opportunity to redouble their efforts." Certainly, these are fine things to do, but I'd like to add a different twist...
In my experience, when speakers are struggling with making changes in their lives, they tend to get down on themselves. Often, our clients are their own harshest critics--you might even say that they can be their own worst enemies. How many times have you heard your clients judge themselves negatively for stuttering (or for not "using their techniques")? We hear them say, "I know what I'm supposed to do; I just don't do it!" "I know I was supposed to practice; I just got caught up in the holidays." "I wanted to speak up at that meeting, but I was afraid that I would stutter, so I just sat there...again." "What's wrong with me?" "I can't even talk!" "I'm so useless..."
The constant barrage of negativity and critical comments that they direct at themselves can wear them down. That further impedes their success, inviting another round of negative thoughts and feelings. In my opinion, when our clients are berating themselves in this way, the last thing they need from us is yet another admonition to practice or use techniques or work harder or whatever. That just gives them another reason to feel bad; another reason to feel guilty; another reason to attack themselves. All the drillwork in the world isn't going to help them feel better about themselves.
What do they need instead? Perhaps a touch of kindness...from us, certainly, but even more importantly, from themselves.
I like to ask my clients what they would say to a friend who was going through a rough time. Would they berate him for feeling bad? Would they tell him that his is useless? Would they even tell him to practice more? No, chances are that they would offer him a bit of kindness, support, and understanding...a non-judgmental ear for listening; a safe place for talking about challenges without always making suggestions about what their friend has to do; a hand to hold in tough times or a shoulder to cry on; a bit of space so he can be where he is in his journey while he strengthens himself for the next steps.
I might follow this up by asking them if they would ever treat a friend they way they have been treating themselves. The answer is often a horrified look and an, "Oh my, no. I wouldn't be a very good friend if I did."
I then ask them if they might consider being a better friend for themselves. Can they be just a touch kinder to themselves? Can they give themselves some space to be where they are without getting down on themselves for not being somewhere else? Can they have patience with themselves and remind themselves that they're okay even though they're not yet where they want to be? Can they reach out and hold their own hand, pat themselves on the back, listen to themselves, and offer themselves a bit of support?"
To me, the most important New Year's resolution that we can make when we're going through a tough time is to be just a bit kinder to ourselves. Of course, it's not magic. It doesn't instantly make us feel better. Still, as we start to make changes in how we relate to our challenges (and to ourselves), we can start to lighten the burden that we carry. It will take work; it will take effort; it will take thought; it will take planning. It will also help to lessen our negativity and help us to feel better so we can face the challenges ahead.
In this way, making a New Year's resolution to be kinder to themselves can help our clients who stutter.
And it can help speech-language pathologists, as well. I encourage you to give it a try...