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'Beyond Stammering', by Dave McGuire

Carolyn DesForges, Nick Clowes, St. John Harris | 01.06.2008

Reviews of the 2008 and 2003 editions. There is now a 2014 edition entitled Beyond stuttering.

Review by Carolyn DesForges - Revised edition 2008

Beyond stammeringThere is an ever-increasing range of courses in this country available privately or on the NHS for people who stammer, and the McGuire Programme has been promoted and discussed, often controversially, since the mid 90's. The book began as the manual for the Programme, and although now published as a self-help book the author does feel many seeking improvement for speech may need more direct 'coaching' and ongoing support to make the progress they want. It is directed at those who have the commitment to 'hard work' and courage to face fears in order to make improvements to their speech - it is not for those who are 'satisfied' with their speech, or for those who are looking for a 'cure'.

It is divided into 3 sections - 'How to get it', which covers the methods used to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming 'a strong eloquent speaker'; 'How to keep it', which focuses on ways to maintain the fluency strategies; and a final section containing stories from graduates of the Programme.

The author states that before you can work on your stammer, you need a clear understanding of both the psychological aspects (the avoidances, the panic, the fears and the roots of those fears) and the physical aspects of stammering. McGuire feels the key 'dysfunction' at the time of blocking is breathing and describes in detail the anatomy and physiology surrounding it. This rationale is the basis of the speech technique - 'costal breathing', and a detailed explanation of how to use this is given.

The reader is taken through how to deal with the cycle of panic and fears linked to stammering in the real world. The book has been slightly updated in the new edition, to expand on decreasing fear by 'deliberate dysfluency', and by 'disclosures' to listeners about the fact that a technique is being used to manage stammering.

Section two describes how to maintain the fluency gained using the techniques. I feel it comes across as the 'hard part' of reaching the goal of 'eloquence'. Practice of the technique on your own and in 'live' situations (many hours a day), fighting fears, perseverance, following the Programme 'laws' and advice are all required in order not 'to lose it'.

Throughout the text, McGuire uses analogies from his experiences as a tennis player (sports psychology), his life (trying to lose weight), from nature (fire fighting) and experiences from his students. This serves to bring to life advice that could be dry and rather prescriptive. At times too many analogies were used and I had to re-read sections to follow through initial ideas. The 'life' stories in Section 3 were useful to put a real life context to the 'theory'.

There are few changes in the updated edition - some upgraded diagrams, the section on deliberate dysfluency, and an extra 'life' story. The book is more compact, however, which is easier for reading in bed, on the train or popping in your bag! Perhaps this indicates that the McGuire programme has not changed its general content - and as with many therapy approaches may be a winning formula for some, but not for all. As a therapist, I like to have a theoretical basis for the approach I use, and at times found the jump between approaches difficult to follow, and if using personally it may be hard to implement. However, the ideas are practical and the premise that with determination one can make changes, face fears and reach goals is key - with this in mind, this book would be a useful part of a toolkit to manage stammering.

Carolyn DesForges is a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, Nottinghamshire County PCT

Summer 2008 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 16

Review by Nick Clowes - 1st Edition 2003

I have stammered for the past 21 years of my life. As I am fast approaching 30 I thought it was time to address my speech. After several years of fairly unsuccessful NHS speech therapy I turned to the McGuire programme. I have just completed my first full course and have also attended a refresher course. A large part of the technique is based on costal breathing, but as people who have been on the course realise, this is just one of many factors that will enable you to become an eloquent (NOT FLUENT) speaker.

Beyond stammering, by the founder of the McGuire programme, Dave McGuire, explains the individual components of the technique. The first chapter concentrates on the act of stammering itself, why people stammer and the fear and panic related to certain situations. The book then describes the breathing technique which is necessary for people to perform the technique. It concentrates on the crural and costal diaphragm and explains their functions in depth. The course also begins by explaining this process in great detail. The next stage on the course is to begin to use the new breathing technique and to start to train your costal diaphragm. I found that it is through this repetitive practice that you gain a better understanding of the technique which will hopefully become internalised.

The book then concentrates on the many external factors that contribute to eloquent speaking. It compares the act of eloquent speaking with a sports mentality. For example, for an athlete to achieve their goal they must practice constantly to improve and maintain their level of performance. I found this analogy very easy to understand as just having a regimented textbook can be quite dull, uninspiring and complicated to understand.

The book explains that one of main reasons for people stammering is that they are scared of stammering. That fear of stammering thus causes people to stammer, therefore making the act of stammering a self fulfilling prophecy - if you are frightened of it happening then it is likely that it will happen. To overcome this problem it is suggested that people try to deliberately block words on some occasions. The course covers this in a more in-depth way and calls it deliberate disfluency. However the book does not appear to put as much emphasis on this area, which I believe is an extremely useful tool. The reason for this could possibly be that people who stammer are very sceptical of this; we are very good at stammering, so why do we need to practice it?

Having both read the book and attended a four day course I feel that the book, although covering all of the different elements of the technique, does not provide the emotional support which is so crucial to your recovery. I found during my intensive course it was easy to get the breathing technique wrong. However, there were always plenty of people around to assist and guide me. The course also pushes you to face your feared situations, for example, public speaking and using the phone. Whereas it is easy to just read about the technique it is a completely different matter when you actually have to face your fears.

In my opinion you would benefit more from the book if it was used in conjunction with attending the four day intensive course. Once you have come off the course this book will reinforce all of the factors of the technique. People who are interested in the McGuire programme could get some prior knowledge of what is involved before embarking on their road to recovery.

Autumn 2003 issue of 'Speaking Out'

Freedoms Road - But what price freedom? By St. John Harris. 1st Edition 2003

Dave McGuire sets out his stall and his take on the world very early on in Beyond Stammering. Attempting to explain the emotional and mental dimension of stammering, he refers to the problems of being different: 'We're different because we are seen as incompetent. After all, speaking (reasonably well) is so easy. The difficulty, he continues, is that people who stammer fall apart when under pressure: 'It's like someone who needs crutches to walk suddenly being able to run and dance and play tennis, then, just because something upset him, can't take two steps without the crutches.' McGuire's use of metaphor here is very illuminating; for underlying his world-view is an utter horror of impairment, which he equates with weakness and inadequacy, and an unswerving allegiance to - not merely normality, but excellence.

'Forget self-acceptance, we will always be judged by what we do and how well we do it. If we do not match up to these standards of excellence demanded of us, then we risk not only rejection and being marginalised, but also persecution.' McGuire's is a harsh, uncompromising vision, in which the fittest prosper in their pursuit of excellence, while the weaker are punished. For McGuire, your interlocutor is always your potential adversary and competitor, who may be trying to bully, intimidate or confuse you: 'Problem is, in today's society, we generally defend ourselves and fight with words.' He speaks from the bitter experience of being 'a severely stammering young junior high school student standing before a class of Victorville street thugs enduring their merciless teasing.'

In the chapter 'How to lose it', McGuire focuses on the dangers of perfectionism and resentments from the past when trying to overcome stammering, yet his entire philosophy seems haunted by these two ghosts. One can almost imagine him saying: 'You normal people persecuted me because I stammered, but now I'm not just going to match you, I'm going to surpass you in the quest for perfect speech.'

Use of the diaphragm is the key, physical aspect of his therapy. The basic theory behind the Programme is simple. It says most of us use the crural diaphragm in normal breathing. But stammering results from the chronic contraction of the crural diaphragm, so the way to achieve fluency is to bypass the crural diaphragm and breathe with the costal diaphragm: deep chesty breaths at least twice per minute during your waking hours for the rest of your life. If you take this commitment and reinforce it with a highly motivational, aggressive sports psychology, then you have in essence the McGuire Programme.

McGuire makes some lofty claims about costal breathing. Because we are speaking from the chest, and the diaphragm is the home of the emotions, we are also speaking 'from the heart', that is, speaking the truth. Influenced by John Harrison's hexagon model and the personal growth movement of the 1960s, McGuire attempts to give his programme a spiritual veneer, writing in broader terms of the ultimate lifelong goal of self-actualisation. The parallel with the 'me' generation is perhaps apt, since the programme is brutally individualistic. There is a support network, granted, but one of his 'assertive rights of recovery' is: 'I have a right to be selfish and to concentrate in working on my speech.' Elsewhere he writes: 'Defeating stammering must become one of your life's top priorities. At first, it must take absolute first priority. Stick with the winners. Don't waste time with the stragglers: Perhaps when you have recovered you can go and help them but, until then, you need to save yourself.'

I would suggest, however, that such an approach can never lead to lasting satisfaction. The flip side of the self-aggrandisement is the self-loathing - the stammering monster within. He describes with great candour his own insecurities in 'The Battle of the Dit', when he felt close to abandoning the programme, after stumbling on the Dutch word 'dit'. 'Had I not dealt with it effectively as I did, it would have spread to all 'd' words. Then to all hard sounds. Very soon, I would have had to close the Freedom's Road programme. Because I won, others have won.' It is a heavy burden to bear.

But what of the sports psychology? There is definitely a punishment for losing, and there is definitely a reward for winning. The assault on the monster must be sustained and ruthless, or 'overkill' as he calls it. In the back of the book one of his graduates expresses this especially well: 'Battle-scarred and victorious, you can hold your head high with the best of them, though you are probably better in speaking... You will understand the real meaning of honesty and integrity and yet have an air of the old western cowboys who says little but when they do, everybody listens.'

This is an unapologetically demanding book and programme in which the only thing avoided is self-acceptance. For this reason alone I would encourage caution.

Autumn 2003 issue of 'Speaking Out'

Note: As with all therapy courses, it is important to find a course that feels right for you. No one course will the best one for every person who stammers. More details are in the adult therapy section of this website.