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Speach and emotion: the building up of a self image as a good speaker

Text for the conference "THE (NON) EXPRESSION OF EMOTIONS IN HEALT AND DISEASE", in Tilburg University (Psychology Department) from 28 - 31 August 1996


Silvia Friedman

Most research about stuttering has been done from a positivist point of view. This reduces the possibilities of comprehension of the phenomenon's nature that, from our point of view, can only be understood and analyzed by considering the determinations developed between psyche and society.

We developed two studies based on the determinations between psyche and society. They lead to the comprehension of the peculiarities of the speech production and the speaking capacity. On the first we studied the relationship between the conscience's movement and the stuttering manifestation. The findings are fundamental for the second research that is the subject of this presentation.

The elements that compose the relationship between the conscience's movement and the stuttering manifestation allowed us to understand some of its nature, and pointed out at least two distinct stuttering aspects that we need to understand. The first is related to the normal disfluency phenomenon that we prefer to call natural stuttering, which may appear in any speaker's speech because of the relationship between phonoarticulatory movements, thoughts and emotions. However this is not the scope of the work presented here. The second aspect is related with stuttering understood as suffering. This happens when the speaker does not accept his natural speech pattern and tries to inhibit his spontaneous production of speech. This movement of conscience may start around the age of two and a half or three.

For comprehension of the latter aspect, some of our research findings indicate that the non acceptance of the spontaneous pattern of speech is connected, in the social level, to the existence of a good-speaker ideology, and in the subjective level to the rise of a stigmatized speaker's image. One influences the other, and both are present in a latent form with respect to the conscience. That means that they are unconscious contents that do not appear explicitly in the speech of someone who lives stuttering as a sufferance. Nevertheless, they can be glimpsed in some speaking behaviors like, for example, in the use of tricks to speak well. These tricks, because of their characteristics, make clear that the person foresees articulation failures in the speech that he hasn't produced yet. This is equivalent to plan speech failures. According to the speaking situation characteristics and the corresponding emotional response, the person experiences a stronger or weaker feeling that speech failures will happen. It could also be understood as a phobic response to the speech. By phobic response we mean, a decision taken unconsciously and under pressure in some previous moment of life and in confront with subjugating stimuli. We understand that these stimuli are exactly those that are connected with the non acceptance of the spontaneous pattern of speech. Every time this set of stimuli appears the person shows the same pattern of response.

We can summarize the ideas above by saying that since speech is a spontaneous activity, to try to speak well is to use a trial approach to do something that should happen spontaneously. This is an adverse condition to speech production, that leads to many types of tensions, not only in the speech organs, but in the whole body. This condition is determined by the unconscious stigmatized image of the speaker, and makes active muscles that prevent the speech in action. As an example, we have the closure of the vocal chords, intending to protect the person from the act of speaking. Once this condition is established, the person can make use of one of his tricks and keep on talking, or he can force the speech in order to keep on talking. This means that in suffered-stuttering the unconscious mind prevents the speech, by holding the air passage, so protecting the person from the fright of the stuttered speech. The conscious mind then forces the act of speech to fulfill the social necessity of keeping on going with the communication. This is the phobic pattern response we mentioned previously.

Under this point of view of suffered-stuttering production, the BUILDING UP OF A SELF IMAGE AS A GOOD SPEAKER is a therapy approach based on changes of the subjective conditions that produces the stuttering. The changes are built up from the apprehension of the subjective conditions of the designated patient, and those for whom he cares (parents. teachers. etc.), in reciprocity with the communication relationship that he experiences and with the speech pattern that he presents. We have to apprehend the speaker's attributions of meanings and signification to his speech reality. We have to apprehend the structure of this field of meanings by means of the representations expressed by him about his speech and stuttering, looking for incoherence, conflicts, inconsistencies, incompatibilities and paradoxes.

The therapy approach is centered in the change of meanings to the speaker speech reality. This implies on the attribution of new meanings to his reality, in order to allow a reconstruction of the representations that are connected to the production of speech and stuttering. The aim is a change in the contents and in the movement of the individual's subjectivity with respect to his own image as a speaker. This means that, based on the comprehension of the subjective characteristics connected to the stuttering objective production, we understand that the stuttering itself should not be the therapeutic approach's aim. The aim should be the solutions the individual looks for in order to inhibit or avoid the stuttering manifestation. Reconstructing the field of meanings that motivates the try to­ avoid stuttering behavior the individual can be lead to find his spontaneous way of speaking again, that is, to meet back his fluency.

Therapy approaches based on the articulatory aspects only, do not favor the overcome of the subjective conditions that sustain the stuttering production, on the contrary, they end up by reinforcing them. Although they can significantly modify the stuttering production, resulting in a much more fluent speech pattern, it does it by means of trick improvements. In this way, the individual becomes more skilled in strategies that allow him to foresee and avoid stuttering. Strictly speaking this means that the suffered­ stuttering has not been alleviated, but that an efficient way to hide it has been developed. Although this can be rather satisfactory for many people, we have adopted a different therapeutic point of view. Through the comprehension of the subjective movement that sustains the suffered-stuttering manifestation we can see that it is possible for the patient to go over this point and to restore his spontaneous way of speaking via the transformation of the subjective contents connected to the speaking activity. This is important because in this way conditions are created that allow the individual to be fluent without any suffering.

The approach for the production of this change is based on a critical understanding of the meaning attributed to the speech and by a corporeal work. This leads the patient to experience his effective speech potential, to recognize his fluency capacity, and to use the stuttering voluntarily. Joining the capacity of a critical understanding of the old meanings attributed to the speech and the stuttering, and the capacity of recognizing his effective speech potential the self image as a good speaker is built up.