Stuttering therapy

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Stuttering therapy is any of the various treatment methods that attempt to reduce stuttering to some degree in an individual.[1][2] Stuttering can be a challenge to treat because there is a lack of evidence-based consensus about therapy.[3] Some believe that there is no cure for the condition,[3] and experts have argued that the preferred treatment outcome is one that involves satisfaction on the part of the stutterer, with both his communicative performance and the therapy process.[4] While there is disagreement about acceptable treatment outcomes from stuttering therapy,[5] a wide range of methods have been developed to treat stuttering, and these have been successful to varying degrees. The Stuttering Foundation provides a list of speech-language pathologists who specialize in stuttering treatment.


In general, stuttering therapy aims to reduce stuttering to some degree in an individual,[2] although there is disagreement about acceptable treatment outcomes from stuttering therapy.[5] Some believe the only acceptable therapy outcome is a significant reduction in or total elimination of stuttering, others believe that speech which contains some stuttering, as long as the stuttering has become less tense and effortful, is just as acceptable, and yet others believe that the most important therapy outcome is the increased confidence a person has in his or her ability to talk, whether or not stuttering continues to be present.[5] Additionally, the many different methods available for treating stuttering, and a history of promoting unsuccessful treatments, have left both stutterers and clinicians confused and frustrated about what can be accomplished with stuttering treatment.[6]

In 1997, experts argued that in the case of a stutterer seeking professional treatment from a clinician, the "preferred treatment outcome" is that the stutterer will demonstrate feelings, behaviors, and thinking that lead to improved communicative performance and satisfaction with the therapy process. They argued that the criteria for a treatment to be viewed as successful includes the stutterer being satisfied with her therapy program and its outcome, feeling that she has an increased ability to communicate effectively, feeling more comfortable as a speaker, and believing that she is better able to reach her social, educational and vocational goals.[4]

Robert W. Quesal, an associate professor who teaches courses in fluency disorders, anatomy, and speech and hearing science, defined successful stuttering therapy as one that leads to a change in speech fluency, a reduction in the impact of stuttering on an individual's life, and an increased acceptance of stuttering on the part of the stutterer;[4] and J. Scott Yaruss, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Communication Science and Disorders at the University of Pittsburgh, suggests three instruments for clinicians to use to document changes in the stuttering of their clients: the reaction of the stutterer to the fact that she stutters, how much stuttering interferes with the stutterer's ability to perform daily tasks, and the impact that stuttering has on the client's ability to pursue their life goals.[6]

Yaruss and Quesal (see citations above) created an assessment measure, the OASES (Overall Assessment of the Speaker's Experience of Stuttering) which addresses the client's objective and subjective attitudes, thoughts and feelings surrounding speaking and stuttering. The OASES is currently (2015) the only test of its kind, and assists the speech clinician in establishing a baseline quality of life, as well as with ongoing and post-treatment measures.


There are many different approaches to stuttering therapy. While some believe that there is no cure for the condition,[3][7] stuttering can be reduced and even eliminated with appropriate timely intervention,[7] and various therapy methods have reduced stuttering in individuals to some degree.[nb 1] In any case, for all persons who stutter, the success of speech therapy depends on the combination of education, training, and individualized treatment provided.[3]

For a child that stutters, the focus of treatment to prevent the worsening of the condition, and families play an important role in the process. Successful elimination of mild stuttering is likely when treatment is initiated before four years of age. For those who have more advanced forms of stuttering and secondary behaviors, therapy is generally a variation or combination of two approaches: a fluency-shaping technique that replaces stuttering with controlled fluency, and stuttering modification therapy, which focuses on reducing the severity of stuttering.[3]

Therapy for children[edit]

Treatment of mild stuttering in children younger than six years of age focuses on the prevention or elimination of stuttering behaviors. Families play an important role in the management of stuttering in children: therapy is usually characterized by parental involvement and direct treatment, and providing an environment that encourages slow speech, affording the child time to talk, and modeling slowed and relaxed speech can help reduce stuttering.[3]

Several organizations organize summer programs for children, including summer camps, to help treat stuttering. These programs offer a range of services from providing a fun outdoor experience in a nurturing and supportive environment that is free from ridicule, to providing "intensive work on communication skills".[9] Ellen M. Bennett, an assistant professor who has practicing speech therapy for at least 18 years, encourages "public school therapists to advocate for the establishment of summer programs" for children who stutter.[10]

The Lidcombe Program[edit]

Lidcombe[11] therapy has become prominent in recent years and is effective in preschoolers and young children who stutter,[3] involves a parent or some significant person in the child's life being trained and delivering treatment in the child's everyday environment.[12] In the program, family members are to provide an environment in which the child receives praise for fluent speech in the child's daily speaking and, occasionally, correction of stuttering. Some of the most effective preschool intervention programs call for direct acknowledgment of stuttering in the form of contingencies such as "that was bumpy" or "that was smooth".[3] Research and clinical trials have shown that the Lidcombe Program can eliminate stuttering for the most part and fluency can be maintained through a criterion based maintenance program, when stuttering begins in the first few years of life.

Fluency shaping[edit]

Fluency shaping therapy focuses on changing all the speech of the person who stutters, and not just the portions of speech in which he or she stutters.[13][unreliable source?] This type of therapy involves teaching the stutterer to use a speaking style that requires careful and prominent self-monitoring; examples of such therapy include one in which the stutterer slows his speech down and smoothes out all his words,[3] and one in which the physical mechanisms used in the speech production are retrained.[14] Fluency shaping therapies do not address attitudes, feelings, and self-concept issues under the assumption that eliminating the stuttering will eliminate these issues. Proponents of this type of therapy believe that the outcome of any therapy depends directly on its focus: "if clinician and client focus on changing stuttering, they'll get stuttering; if they focus on changing fluency, they'll get fluency".[13] This type of approach can reduce stuttering, although in children its effectiveness decreases if stuttering persists after eight years of age;[3] Woody Starkweather, as at 1998 a Professor of Communication Sciences, asserted that in his experience this type of therapy improves speech only when used with other techniques.[15]

Certain devices, known as fluency-shaping mechanisms, use this approach in an attempt to reduce stuttering. For example, delayed auditory feedback devices encourages the slowing down of speech by replaying the stutterer's words. The stutterer is then forced to slow her rate of speech to prevent distortions in the speech that is heard through the device. The effectiveness of such devices varies with stuttering severity.[3]

Modifying Phonation Intervals (MPI)[edit]

The Modifying Phonation Intervals (MPI) Stuttering Treatment Program is very effective in training adults who stutter to achieve generalized fluent and natural sounding speech by learning to speak with a reduced number of short intervals of phonation. The program is designed to be a computer-aided, bio-feedback program that requires appropriate software (MPI smartphone app) and hardware (a throat microphone headset) which records the phonation intervals, or PIs, from the surface of the speaker’s throat.

The app records all PIs as well as speaker-rated speech performance measures. All PIs recorded within a specified ms range are able to be fed back in real time to the speaker via graphics and audio signal. It is this PI feedback that the speaker uses in order to learn to reduce the frequency of target range PIs and which reduces the speaker’s frequency of stuttering.

The MPI Stuttering Treatment Program is based on a series of experimental studies by Roger Ingham and colleagues (Gow & Ingham, 1992;[16] Ingham, Kilgo, Ingham, Moglia, Belknap, & Sanchez, 2001;[17] Ingham, Montgomery, & Ulliana, 1983[18]). These studies have demonstrated that adults who stutter can learn to control the frequency of relatively short intervals of phonation (e.g., 30-150 ms) during oral reading and spontaneous speaking tasks. These studies have also demonstrated that adults who stutter can be trained to reduce the frequency of those same PIs (known as target range phonation intervals or TRPIs) by at least 50% while still achieving natural-sounding speech. The effect is that stuttering will also be reduced or eliminated without necessarily reducing the rate of speech.

Recent findings[19] have shown that therapy benefits will generalize and can be sustained for at least 12 months after the completion of treatment.

The MPI Stuttering Treatment Schedule is divided into 4 phases. Those phases are Pre-Treatment, Establishment, Transfer, and Maintenance. Each phase is designed to be managed jointly by the speaker (person who stutters) and the clinician. The Pre-Treatment phase is directed by the clinician, but the other phases are largely self-managed while also requiring regular validation by a clinician.

Stuttering modification[edit]

Stuttering modification therapy, also known as traditional stuttering therapy,[3] was developed by Charles Van Riper between 1936 and 1958.[20] It focuses on reducing the severity of stuttering by changing only the portions of speech in which a person stutters, to make them smoother, shorter, less tense and hard, and less penalizing. This approach attempts to reduce the severity and fear of stuttering, and strives to teach stutterers to stutter with control, and not to make the stutterer fluent. Therapy using this approach tends to recognize the fear and avoidance of stuttering, and consequently spend a great deal of time helping stutterers through those emotions.[3][13][unreliable source?] This approach generally does not eliminate stuttering events, but it helps minimize the impact and occurrence of stuttering.[3] Since its creation, many clinicians have improvised on Charles Van Riper's basic stages and strategies. The stages of Van Riper's therapy can be summarized up in the acronym MIDVAS:[21][unreliable source?]

  1. Motivation
    The person who stutters needs to assess his motivation for seeking therapy, and the speech-language pathologist (SLP) needs to help the person build and maintain the motivation necessary for successfully changing speech behaviors and attitudes.
  2. Identification
    In this stage the client and clinician identify all of the behaviors, feelings, and attitudes that go along with the person's stuttering.
  3. Desensitization
    Van Riper designed this stage to help drain away the negative emotions, the fears, and the anxieties associated with the act of stuttering. The most common strategy used in this phase is called voluntary stuttering, in which the person stutters on purpose.
  4. Variation
    The individual is now able to change how he stutters and his reactions to the stuttering; he learns how to stutter differently in this phase. For example, if the person usually prolongs the initial "s" in "sister", the SLP may have him repeat the sound or stutter on a different sound in the word.
  5. Approximation
    The individual now learns specific strategies to smooth out and minimize the moments of stuttering. The three most common strategies for altering the stuttering are cancellation, in which the person stutters all the way through a word, stops immediately, and then repeats the word stuttering a different way; pull-out, in which the person gains control over a moment of stuttering while it is happening and smooths it out; and preparatory set, in which the person prepares for a moment of stuttering before it happens, starts it gently and glides through it smoothly.
  6. Stabilization
    In the stabilization phase, the individual becomes his own clinician by using the new stuttering controls in more and more situations of daily life. The individual also continues to stutter voluntarily and to seek out communication situations which s/he previously avoided.[21][unreliable source?]

Integrative approaches[edit]

Integrative approaches combine fluency shaping and stuttering modification techniques; there is a wide variety of such approaches.

Contemporary devices[edit]

Contemporary devices used to reduce stuttering alters the frequency of the speaker’s voice to mimic the “choral effect”, a phenomenon in which person's stutter decreases or ceases completely when she is speaking with a group of others, or slows the rate of speech through delayed auditory feedback (above). Studies on the long-term outcome of these devices have not been published.[3]

Diaphragmatic breathing[edit]

The Freeing Voices, Changing Lives award given by the American Institute for Stuttering to people who stutter who have achieved great professional success.

Several treatment initiatives advocate diaphragmatic breathing (or costal breathing) as a means by which stuttering can be controlled.[22][23]

Self-therapy and support groups[edit]


Some stutterers are only able to seek self-therapy because adequate clinical treatment is not available to them.[24] Some experts in the field believe that stuttering therapy is largely a do-it-yourself project anyway.[25] As a form of self-therapy, Malcolm Fraser, founder of the Stuttering Foundation of America and life member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, recommended a set of guidelines for stutterers needing immediate relief, even temporarily, in his book Self-Therapy for the Stutterer[26].

Support groups[edit]

As of 2002, stuttering support groups had gained prominence and visibility and were rapidly becoming an important part of the recovery process for stutterers,[27][28] even though the vast majority of adults who stutter did not participate in support groups (or treatment).[28] A growing number of speech–language pathologists were also encouraging their clients to participate in support groups, even though little was known about the individuals that joined stuttering support groups and the benefits they derived from their participation.[27]

Studies involving members of support groups of the National Stuttering Association have found that 57.1% of survey respondents said that the support group had affected their self-image "very positively", with no respondents indicating that it had a negative impact.[27]

Self-help organizations[edit]

Several organizations have been set up in various countries that provide literature and a support network for stutterers seeking self-therapy. These include the National Stuttering Association in the United States, which provides publications, a newsletter, local chapters and workshops;[29] Speakeasy New Zealand Association, a self-help organisation that has branches throughout New Zealand;[30] the British Stammering Association in the United Kingdom; the Indian Stammering Association, Israel Stuttering Association (AMBI) and the China Stuttering Association, a self-help organization in China.[31]

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy[edit]

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is sometimes used to help people who stutter; as of 2010 the evidence base for its efficacy was weak.[32]

Pharmacologic therapy[edit]

Several pharmacologic, i.e. drug-based, methods to control or alleviate stuttering events have been studied, but each has either proved ineffective or have had adverse effects. In addition, no large-scale trials on pharmacologic therapy have been published, and there are no trials including children. A comprehensive review of pharmacologic interventions for stuttering showed that no agent leads to valid improvement in stuttering or in secondary social and emotional consequences.[3]

Post-therapy recurrence of stuttering[edit]

Every clinician who has worked extensively with adult stutterers has encountered the tendency for the stutterer to begin to stutter again after treatment has helped the person talk with little or no stuttering; only preschool children seem immune from this tendency. It has been suggested that this return to stuttering be avoided by dealing with a stutterer's fears during therapy.[15]

For example, stutterers whose speech had been improved by fluency shaping techniques may stutter again if he becomes tired of the effort involved in trying to maintain a nonspontaneous, unnatural form of speaking; the stutter itself was never dealt with in the first place. While attempts may be made to render the learned manner of speech more natural-sounding and less burdensome, these attempts cannot address the problem that the new way of speaking does not feel right to the stutterer, which may lead him to decide to return to his pre-therapy manner of speech. Moreover, experts have argued that fluency shaping is stuttering in a new form, and Starkweather (1998) asserts that the return of stuttering is a fault of the treatment.[15]

Additionally, there is a tendency for stuttering behaviors to return after stuttering modification therapy. While this type of therapy requires less effort that in fluency shaping, some concentration nonetheless needs to be applied. Moreover, a client that feels as if he has been cured of stuttering and stops doing the various exercises associated with the treatment may develop "microstutters", which lead to the use of avoidance behaviors that increase the fear of stuttering further, which in turn leads to more severe stuttering. The main issue is that the fear of stuttering was not removed by therapy in the first place. If the microstutters were simply accepted as a reality, or if voluntary stuttering were used to prevent the development of new fears, the microstutters may occur but a relapse into severe stuttering may not.[15]

In another form of recurrence, a stutterer who has undergone therapy has an emotional reaction to a situation as a result of previous experiences, that causes him to stutter. This is often related to "struggles and forcing learned when the stutterer was very young". The solution to this is to resurrect and focus on as much "unfinished business" as can be found during therapy, which may, for example, include dealing with a fear of reading aloud in front of a group that is related to avoidance and humiliation experienced in similar childhood situations. Clinicians trained in experiential techniques know how to find such "business" and "finish" it.[15]


  1. ^ See, for example, Stuttering: Successes and Failures in Therapy,[8] which lists cases in speech therapy that have been viewed as successful (along with cases that have been viewed as failures).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jorgenso, Melissa, & Spillers, Cindy S. Therapy and Its Importance. University of Minnesota Duluth (2001-01). Retrieved on 2008-08-25.
  2. ^ a b Stuttering. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (2002-05). Retrieved on 2008-08-25.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Jane E Prasse, George E Kikano. (2008). Stuttering: An Overview. American Family Physician, 77(9), 1271-6. Retrieved August 27, 2008, from Academic Research Library database. (Document ID: 1468009541).
  4. ^ a b c Quesal, Bob. What is "Successful" Stuttering Therapy? University of Minnesota Duluth (1998-08-24). Retrieved on 2008-08-25.
  5. ^ a b c Therapy Outcomes. The Stuttering Foundation of America. Retrieved on 2008-08-26.
  6. ^ a b Yaruss, J. Scott. Documenting Treatment Outcomes in Stuttering: Measuring Impairment, Disability, and Handicap. University of Minnesota Duluth (1998-09-14). Retrieved on 2008-08-25.
  7. ^ a b What is the treatment for stuttering? Retrieved on 2008-08-27.
  8. ^ Stuttering: Successes and Failures in Therapy. Tennessee: Stuttering Foundation of America. 2000. ISBN 0-933388-04-7.
  9. ^ Summer Clinics Referral List. Stuttering Foundation of America. Retrieved on 2008-08-28.
  10. ^ Bennett, Ellen, & Batik, Jenna M. A Perspective on Summer Camps for Children Who Stutter: 1991 - 1998. Minnesota State University, Mankato (1998-08-02). Retrieved on 2008-08-28.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Manual for the Lidcombe Program of Early Stuttering Intervention Archived 2009-07-31 at the Wayback Machine.. The University of Sydney (2002). Retrieved on 2008-08-28.
  13. ^ a b c [unreliable source?]Stuttering Therapy Approach Archived 2008-05-09 at the Wayback Machine.. Memphis Speech Solutions. Retrieved on 2008-08-27.
  14. ^ Why Fluent Speech?. Fluent Speech. Retrieved on 2008-08-28.
  15. ^ a b c d e Starkweather, C. Woodruff. Relapse: A Misnomer? University of Minnesota Duluth (1998-09-23). Retrieved on 2008-08-26.
  16. ^ Gow, M.L, & Ingham, R.J. (1992). The effect of modifying electroglottograph identified intervals of phonation on stuttering. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 35, 495-511. Retrieved on 2015-03-22.
  17. ^ Ingham, R.J., Kilgo, M., Ingham, J.C., Moglia, R., Belknap, H., & Sanchez, T. (2001). Evaluation of a stuttering treatment based on reduction of short phonation intervals. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 44, 1229-1244. Retrieved on 2015-03-22.
  18. ^ Ingham, R.J., Montgomery, J., & Ulliana, L. (1983). The effect of manipulating phonation duration on stuttering. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 26, 579-587. Retrieved on 2015-03-22.
  19. ^ Ingham, R.J., Ingham, J.C., Bothe, A.K., Wang, Y., & Kilgo, M. (2015). Efficacy of the modifying phonation intervals (MPI) stuttering treatment program with adults who stutter. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 24, 256–271. Retrieved on 2015-05-21.
  20. ^ Kehoe, T. D. Speech-Related Fears and Anxieties Archived 2008-07-24 at the Wayback Machine.. No Miracle Cures:A Multifactoral Guide to Stuttering Therapy. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  21. ^ a b Jorgenson, M., & Spillers, C. S. Therapy and Its Importance. University of Minnesota Duluth (2001-01). Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  22. ^ "Costal breathing". British Stammering Association.
  23. ^ "Two great videos on how diaphragmatic breathing works". American Institute for Stuttering. Archived from the original on 2010-11-15.
  24. ^ Fraser, Malcolm (2000). Self-Therapy for the Stutterer. Tennessee: Stuttering Foundation of America. p. 11. ISBN 0-933388-45-4.
  25. ^ Fraser, Malcolm (2000). Self-Therapy for the Stutterer. Tennessee: Stuttering Foundation of America. p. 14. ISBN 0-933388-45-4.
  26. ^ Fraser, Malcolm (2000). Self-Therapy for the Stutterer. Tennessee: Stuttering Foundation of America. pp. 41–53. ISBN 0-933388-45-4.
  27. ^ a b c Yaruss, J. S., Quesal, R. W., Reeves, L., Molt, L. F., Kluetz, B., Caruso, A. J., et al. (2002). Speech treatment and support group experiences of people who participate in the National Stuttering Association. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 27(2), 115-134.
  28. ^ a b Yaruss, J. S., Quesal, R. W., Murphy, B. (2002). National Stuttering Association members' opinions about stuttering treatment. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 27(3), 227-242.
  29. ^ If You Stutter, You're Not Alone! National Stuttering Association. Retrieved on 2008-08-29.
  30. ^ Directory Archived 2008-09-22 at the Wayback Machine.. Excite UK. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
  31. ^ Directory Archived 2008-09-22 at the Wayback Machine.. Excite UK. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
  32. ^ Blomgren, Michael (15 November 2010). "Stuttering Treatment for Adults: An Update on Contemporary Approaches". Seminars in Speech and Language. 31 (04): 272–282. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1265760. PMID 21080299.

External links[edit]

Speech Therapy by Speech Language Pathologist[edit]