BSA is often asked if hypnotherapy can cure stammering. Although the short answer is no, it can be very helpful in making long-term changes. Rita Greer is an experienced speech language therapist and hypnotherapist, who provides a few answers in an interview for Speaking Out.
SO: Can hypnosis help stammering?
RG: Hypnosis doesn't cure the actual problem of stammering. The therapy I do is a journey taking the person into themselves to understand who and why they are, and to help them change. The intention of my therapy is to help a person discover the different parts of themselves that are hurting, lonely or frustrated and to give those parts - child, teenager, adult - space to express what is going on emotionally and to give new resources to those parts to help them to be stronger.
SO: What is the difference between hypnotherapy and hypnosis?
RG: Hypnosis is being in a relaxed, dreamy state and using suggestion (changes the person wants to make); hypnotherapy is where people go into that altered state and you use therapy, and work with them. They are telling me all the time what is happening (for them).
SO: How much time and commitment is involved?
RG: One year, at first every week, then less often. In my experience, deep relaxation, hypnosis, meditation and others all take place in an altered state of awareness. It is what you do in that altered state that is the important thing.
SO: How effective is hypnotherapy in everyday life?
RG: To have any benefit to one's inner peace and calm, [meditation or relaxation] has got to be done as a discipline for 20 minutes morning and evening to have permanent results. If someone is on a high level of tension and anxiety, over a period of time it will slowly reduce this level. It is a life-skill, for life, not just for the time you are doing the therapy.
SO: What does hypnosis feel like?
RG: It is being in a dreamy state. For example, when watching television or reading a book and filtering out everything else, we are in an altered state. But the client, not the therapist, is in control. The client allows themselves to become as relaxed as they feel safe. I have been in that altered state thousands of times, and it is just being pre-occupied with that inner life inside yourself.
SO: Give me an example.
RG: One person who came to me for a year, inbetween conventional therapy, said the work we did changed his life - how he looked at things and how he felt. Another man had a lot of tension and a lot of anxiety with his stammer. During a period of 18 months he went from a severe stammer to appearing to become fluent.
SO: What do you look for in a person before working with them?
RG: I always like the people I see to have had conventional therapy because then they come with a realistic picture of how I can help them. [Otherwise] there is this idea that when you are in hypnosis you are in a deep sleep and the therapist will say 'from this moment on you will be fluent'. I say to people that you are not in a deep sleep, just a dreamy state, but some people don't want to hear that. If that is the case they don't usually finish the course.
SO: Is hypnosis better for some people than others?
RG: It depends on the person's expectations. If people expect to be put into a deep sleep and be in the therapist's control, nothing will happen. I like to use it with people in their late twenties and older, rather than teenagers. It is a very powerful tool and can bring up a lot of things that the person needs to be able to deal with during the session. But other people might think differently about the age issue.
SO: Is there anything that people can do to prepare?
RG: Just be willing to go into a dreamy state - daydreaming, basically. The first thing is to be willing and keep an open mind.
SO: How important is 'reprogramming' - learning new ways of thinking and feeling?
RG: For some people this will be fine, but other people have so much anxiety that when they relax that control of it they slip into huge emotions about what they have been trying to suppress. This must be dealt with before you can move on.
SO: How could someone find a good hypnotherapist?
RG: I don't agree with anyone who says they can 'cure' stammering. If a hypnotherapist does this I think it would be better to find somebody who is more open. It is better to find someone who is a speech language therapist and hypnotherapist - though preferable, this is not essential.
From the Winter 2002 edition of Speaking Out