I think we can agree:
Human beings are social creatures. Most anything, from traveling to eating out, is more enjoyable in good company.
Experiencing life as a stutterer is no different!
Enter the stuttering self-help or support group. (The terms self-help group and support group are used interchangeably in the stuttering world (Boyle, 2014).) Joining one will likely change your life!
In this post, I outline four ways support groups for stuttering have been linked to increased quality of life.
Types of Stuttering Support Groups
- If you are an adult or teen living in the US, check out the National Stuttering Association (NSA). You are bound to find a local chapter and may decide to attend the annual conference!
- If you are a parent of a child or teen who stutters or are a kid or teen yourself, check out Friends. Scope out one of their one-day events, held in cities across the country, or their annual, national conferences.
- Or you may want to connect with others in an online hangout with Stutter Social.
Nearly any person who has been to an NSA conference will rave about how transformative it was. Especially if it was their first time surrounded by others who stutter, in an environment where people accepted them as they were and didn’t try to change how they talked.
They felt, maybe for the first time, that they are not alone on their stuttering journey!
Participation in stuttering support groups will likely change your life in the following ways:
1. Your relationship with your stuttering will change.
The overarching theme in the research about self-help/support groups for stuttering is that people affiliated with these groups learn to accept their stuttering and their identity as a stutterer (Yaruss, Quesal, Reeves, Molt, Kluetz, Caruso, McClure, & Lewis, 2002). They talk about and self-disclose their stuttering more (Trichon & Tetnowski, 2010; Boyle, Milewsk, & Beita-Ell, 2018), a practice that has been linked to higher quality of life. (Boyle et, al., 2018). And they are also more likely than those without self-help group experience to accept the fact that they will stutter throughout their life (Boyle, 2013).
Before meeting others who stutter, I always held out for a time when I would stop stuttering. As a friend of mine once described it, I used to consider myself a fluent person who sometimes stuttered, as opposed to a stutterer who was sometimes fluent.
This mentality made every day a disappointment, every moment of stuttering and struggle a failure.
But by taking on that role of a person who stutters and taking some accountability for my stuttering, as opposed to viewing it as something that just happens to me, my world opened up. As I’ve mentioned before, I realized that I could do so many things I had previously felt I couldn’t do; I just realized I’d be stuttering while doing them.
Research has also shown people who are affiliated with self-help groups for stuttering enjoy a lower self-stigma, that is, they don’t internalize the stigma our society has about stuttering (Boyle, 2013). Though society as a whole perceives stuttering as a problem, something to be fixed, self-help group members aren’t as likely to view their stuttering that way.
2. Your relationship with yourself will likely change.
Participation in stuttering support groups has also been associated with improved self-image (Yaruss, et, al., 2002) and self-confidence (Boyle, 2014).
Further, meeting a group of people in the same boat, dealing with the same issues, instills hope, and makes people feel less alone and isolated. (Boyle, 2014).
Transitioning from fearing and avoiding stuttering to approaching and accepting it helped me change how I viewed myself. The isolation, anxiety and dread that surrounded every aspect of my life dissipated. I didn’t feel shame and self-loathing every time I stuttered. I was kinder to myself and less self-critical.
3. You’ll enjoy social benefits.
Most people who attend a National Stuttering Association conference will tell you that they made some amazing new friends there. It’s no surprise that affiliation with this organization is linked to relationship- and community-building (Trichon et, al., 2010).
Self-help support groups connect people who stutter with each other, and these people may go into the community together, openly stuttering and/or educating others about stuttering (Boyle, 2014). Early on in one’s stuttering journey, it may seem scary to go out in the world and stutter openly, especially if you have never really done it before. Now you have a group of friends to do it with!
Further, being part of self-help groups instills a sense of empowerment, a feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself (Boyle, 2014) and that feels good.
And a cool thing happens when you spend time with others at different stages of their stuttering journeys:
You see someone openly stuttering or using a therapy technique you want to try and you get inspired. In fact, research suggests those who engage in self-help groups to help others enjoy higher quality of life than those without self-help group experience (Boyle, 2013).
For me, one of the greatest aspects of meeting others who stutter was the inspiration factor.
I saw someone public speaking and I wanted to do it! I saw people openly stuttering and realized that I wanted to do that too! I heard people talking about avoidance behaviors and I noticed these in my life and vowed to eradicate them, one by one.
Stuttering is such an isolating experience. And finding a group of people who are going through the same experience, well that’s really special.
4. Maybe your speech will change.
Some people feel stuttering self-help group meetings and conferences are safe place to practice techniques or open stuttering, which they have learned about in speech therapy (Boyle, 2014).
Research also suggests that those attending self-help support groups are less likely to hold fluency in as high regard as those without self-help group experience (Boyle 2014). They are also are more likely to approach stuttering head on as opposed to trying to hide it (Yaruss, et, al., 2002).
This impacts how members stutter. Instead of struggling out of moments of stuttering, trying to say words fluently, which causes tense moments of stuttering, they may be more inclined to allow themselves to openly stutter, leading to easier, less effortful speech.
Participating in self-help groups for stuttering has shown to be linked to fostering a healthy relationship with stuttering and oneself, building community, and changing one’s speech.
I certainly grew in all four ways after spending time with others who stutter.
And you can too!
Look up your local NSA chapter to start connecting to others who understand the stuttering experience too!
Boyle, M. P., Milewski, K., Beita-Ell, C. (2018). Disclosure of stuttering and quality of life in people who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 58 (4). 1-10.
Boyle, M. P. (2014, March 25). Self-Help Support Groups for Stuttering (Ep.446). (P. Reitzes, Interviewer). Retrieved from http://stuttertalk.com/self-help-support-groups-for-stuttering-ep-446/
Boyle, M. P. (2013). Psychological characteristics and perceptions of stuttering of adults with and without support group experience. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 38 (4): 368-381
Trichon, M., Tetnowski, J. (2010). Self-help conferences for people who stutter: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 36(4): 290-295.
Yaruss, J.S., Quesal, R. W., Reeves, L., Molt, L. F., Kluetz, B., Caruso, A. J., McClure, J. A., Lewis, F., (2002). Speech treatment and support group experiences of people who participate in the National Stuttering Association. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 27(2): 115-134.