Approaches to Hypnosis and Stuttering

In many cases stuttering may have been caused by some early experience, but has now become a learned strategy. If you disrupt the strategy by inserting a distraction step then you will break the pattern, giving the client the new belief that they won’t always stutter as expected.

One example of this would be to get the client to project / visualise the sentence they want to say out in front of them, and then get them to read it. This insertion of a visual step in the stuttering strategy then breaks up the previous trigger – response of the client listening to themselves while expecting to stutter. If installed in hypnosis it can be very effective and will help the client ‘unlearn’ the old pattern. The experience of success lays down new neural pathways by creating new synaptic connections in the brain.

If the new strategy is installed in hypnosis and the client is a good hypnotic subject it will continue to work in everyday life, but not because the client is conforming or responding to ongoing hypnotic suggestion, but because the hypnosis has given the client the real life experience of being able to not stutter when they expected to.

The hypnosis allows them to experience a context where their belief is undermined and so it rewritten. This can be achieved in one session if the client responds well to hypnosis. Habitual patterns can be rewritten very quickly in hypnosis (and sometimes without formal trance) if therapy is based on disrupting or rewriting the relationship between the clients sensory experience – in this case, speaking and listening.

In the movie ‘The Kings Speech’ the King’s speech therapist demonstrated how by listening to music, and drowning out the sound of his own voice, the King could speak without stuttering. This small one trial learning experience in itself may not be enough to disrupt the pattern, but it does demonstrate the principle and start to break down the client’s previous beliefs about their inability to get over their problem. Then if the strategy itself is rewritten in hypnosis, the client gets to experience the freedom from stuttering as a quite profound behavioural change.

My account of changing strategies with hypnosis, specifically in this case with stuttering, is not a theory, it is an account of what has worked with 4 of my own clients. The same technique, or a variation, can be used with other problems. I have used it with depression twice, and with a patient at a Madrid psychiatric hospital who was unable to keep his eyes open when talking to people.

What is important here is not the technique but the principle behind it – that the client’s entire world is tied up within their senses as a series of interactions between the senses, often with one sensory experience contingent upon another. Regardless of any early emotional trauma the problem can only exist if the sensory strategy that runs it is in place. So take away the strategy and the means to experience the problem disappears.

Stephen Brooks

The British Hypnosis Research and Training Institute is based at Birkbeck College in the University of London and was founded at the University of Cambridge in 1979 as a research association. We were the first organisation to offer Ericksonian Hypnosis courses in Europe and our combined International ‘Ericksonian Hypnosis University Summer School’ and online distance learning training has evolved from the courses we have taught in more than 20 hospitals and universities during this time.

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