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Fay Fransella 1925 - 2011

| 01.06.2011

Fay Fransella, who died on 14th January 2011, was a pioneer in developing the application of Personal Construct Psychology to stammering. These are some tributes to her.

Spirit of adventure

Fay Fransella was a clinical psychologist who I first met in 1978 when I was a student speech and language therapist. The training course was throwing up particular challenges for me in relation to my stammering. I had read and been impressed by Fay's book Personal Change and Reconstruction in which she describes her beautifully constructed and creative application of George Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) to stammering. Despite having moved on to other areas of research Fay most generously agreed to see me for therapy and this proved to be an enormous support both during my training and my early years of work as a speech therapist. In 1982 she founded the Centre for Personal Construct Psychology and set up a training programme which enabled many speech therapists, including myself, to learn about the theory and therapy. PCP enabled me to start to work more confidently with the underlying psychological aspects of stammering and I am sure this was the case for many other therapists. Fay was a brilliant thinker and a prolific writer - her legacy includes over 100 publications. She had a profound belief in Kelly's view that no one need be the 'victim of their autobiography' and her own life was characterised by the spirit of adventure that underlies the philosophy of PCP.

Carolyn Cheasman, Specialist Speech & Language Therapist, City Lit

New type of practice

Fay Fransella completed a PhD which looked for the first time at applying PCP to adult stammering. Her book Personal Change and Reconstruction, which was based on her PhD, was my first introduction to this area.

I read it at a time when I was struggling with my role as a clinician. My role up until that point was as a clinician who looked at stammering with a steely objective eye; collecting objective speech measures, teaching techniques which changed the outward signs of stammering and berating the client when they did not work. I struggled to understand when clients could be fluent in clinic but did not use the same speech outside. I remember being very curious as to why this would be and searching for some mechanism which might help me better understand the processes that were going on.

Fay Fransella's book opened my eyes to an alternative practice. Her conversations with Luke, an adult who stammers, showed that she understood his understanding of stammering in a way which I did not understand the clients who came to my clinic. I realised that I needed to adopt, not the objective clinical role but the role of one who stands alongside the client and understands stammering from their perspective; to understand by "standing under" rather than standing apart.

I subsequently went on to study PCP in depth and it fundamentally changed my practice, my understanding and me as a person. I owe much to Fay Fransella - a remarkable person whose life has had huge implications for many.

Dr Trudy Stewart, Consultant Speech & Language Therapist (dysfluency), Stammering Support Centre, Leeds Community Healthcare.

Letting us make choices about life

Fay Fransella, together with Peggy Dalton,  were pioneers in the application of Personal Construct Psychology by speech and language therapists to the field of stammering. Since then many speech and language therapists have integrated PCP into their clinical practice with clients of all ages presenting with a variety of communication difficulties.

Construing is the process by means of which we all make sense of our worlds, and by comparing and contrasting aspects of our world we create a unique system of bipolar constructs that influence all aspects of our lives - eg comfortable shoes v. fashion shoes; friendly v. not friendly; good at talking v. stammering (the person's view of the world may be that stammering is incompatible with being good at talking). We develop core constructs which are the key to our sense of identity and give meaning to our lives. The person who stammers will have many constructs about their dysfluency but will need help to think differently about their stammer and to focus on other aspects of their communication, and how these behaviours affect their relationships with other people.

The therapist and client work collaboratively to explore the role of the stammering behaviour and the implications of speaking more fluently. We develop observation skills and experiment with different ways of interacting. We try to understand the guilt and shame associated with not being the sort of speaker we would like to be and the potential for physical and psychological distancing from close relationships .

PCP is an optimistic and creative philosophy of life that enables us to make choices about who we are and the way we wish to lead our lives.

Visit Personalconstructuk.org for information about events and training opportunities.

Adele Pile, Speech and Language Therapist, West Kent PCT

Stammering as a way of living

I came across the work of Fay Fransella in the mid '90's when I was receiving speech therapy that was informed by Personal Construct Theory. Curious to know more about the values underpinning the therapy model, I read Inquiring Man, the book she co-authored with Don Bannister. Fransella's assertion that people somehow choose to stammer I found both perplexing and intriguing. How could it be that all the blocks, the avoidances, the shame I had lived with for so long were of my own choosing? Only after further reading and contemplation did I start to see what this could mean. Rather than a condition, an affliction, or a genetic pre-disposition, what if I looked at stammering as if it were a way of living? Not the best or most fulfilling way, but a route that I knew and at least understood the outcomes of, no matter how restricting they might often be. The choice then lay in the dilemma of imagining myself as something other than a stammerer, and daring to walk an uncharted route towards an unknown set of outcomes. The notion of choice, so integral to PCT, is essentially optimistic and empowering: we don't have to see ourselves as the hapless victims of our genetics or neurology and we don't have to hang around waiting for experts to solve our "pathology" for us. I have deep gratitude to Fay Fransella for helping me to understand that there are always other paths to tread.

Mark Birdsall

The choice then lay in the dilemma of imagining myself as something other than a stammerer.

A personal reflection on Fay Fransella

By Rosemarie Hayhow, speech and language therapist

Can you imagine or remember the 3 day working week? Power cuts in London so that evening classes at the City Lit were sometimes conducted by candle-light. In the UK work with adults who stammer was developing. The sort of treatment portrayed in The King's Speech giving way to the ideas and techniques developed in America by Speech Pathologists like Van Riper and Sheehan who had personal experience of managing their stuttering more successfully. The view that stuttering came from early psychological trauma or maltreatment, was giving way to a more pragmatic view - let's see what we can do to make stammering easier to live with and less destructive for the people who stammer. Avoidance reduction, desensitisation, easy onsets, block modification, syllable-timed or prolonged speech were the favoured treatments. It was an exciting time when therapists and adults who stammer were learning together how to tackle this age old problem in new ways.

This was the context in which a psychologist, Fay Fransella, explored the applicability of Kelly's (1955) Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) to stammering and to people who stammer. Her research demonstrated that changes in the way that people think of themselves, their speaking and other people can affect the way they talk. What I found so attractive about Fransella's work was that a people-centered theory of psychology could help us understand stammering and the psychological issues that interact with development and change. Fransella showed how a theory that applies to us all could help us to understand stammering in a more profound way. The processes of change and development described by Kelly helped me understand myself as well as better understand the people I worked with. I was trying to help others while also going through a period of rapid development and change. The idea that therapist and client have a supervisor and student type of relationship was liberating. I didn't need to pretend I knew more than I did. The client is the expert on themselves, their problem, their resources etc and the therapist has knowledge and training about communication, stammering and change. Together they can make a difference.

Throughout my working and personal life I have remained grateful to some very special people who I was fortunate enough to learn from in my early career: Peggy Dalton and Renee Byrne, my experienced and creative colleagues in those early City Lit days, Elaine Hodkinson at The Central School and Fay Fransella who taught and supervised me as a Masters student and as tutor during my PCP Diploma course. Her knowledge of PCP was impressively thorough and she had wonderful ways of challenging our constructions and of facilitating our understanding of Kelly's theory and practice. Her book written with Bannister (1971) is aptly titled, Inquiring Man, this encapsulates Kelly's view of what drives us Man (woman, child) the Scientist. Not a white coated, clip board carrying, cold scientist but an inquiring mind constantly seeking to make sense of people and events around them and placing their own particular interpretations upon events. Fransella's work has had a profound influence on many speech and language therapists in the UK and it paved the way for other cognitive models of therapy. I think many of us are the richer for her contribution.

Bannister, D. & Fransella, F. (1971) Inquiring Man: The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Penguin, Harmondsworth
Kelly, G. (1955). The Psychology of Personal Constructs: A Theory of Personality. Norton, New York.

From the Summer 2011 issue of Speaking Out, pages 14-15.