Finding a Voice: Speech Therapy and Pluralistic Practice
Darren Hopgood, BA (Hons) MNCS, Pluralistic counsellor at You Can Be You Counselling, Durham County Carers Support, Counsellor
Whether it is the 40, 50, or 60-year-old person that has had a stroke; or the child or teenager and beyond; difficulties with speech can be a highly emotional issue that plague a person’s ability to be confident, happy, and living a fulfilled life. Whether the person recovering from—or living with—the effects of a stroke, who has lost their previous fluent ability to speak with natural grace; or the child who stutters and stammers to the innocent or seemingly vindictive, mocking laughter of their peers; there is a great emotional strain that affects them.
Recently I saw a short video of a brave woman appearing live on American TV with a very prominent stutter asking for advice on how to find love when all she is faced with is impatience and ridicule from others. Within minutes the host stopped her, told her of his own struggles in youth with a stammer, and gave her some advice on how to deal with hers. By the time this person sat down, she was talking to the host with a much less prominent stammer.
These few moments in TV history had me in tears as I was reminded by my own youthful stutter. It is rarely present now, but some of that emotional backlash is still there when I prepare for public talking or talking to that person that I am shyly attracted to.
I knew I wanted to add speech therapy to my quiver of counselling arrows: my own insecurities around my own speech, the stutter of youth and the adult, seemingly impossible to shake. My own difficulty to say my own name with the ‘R’ sounds, or my avoidance of any word with ‘BR’ in. I am a fan of Brene Brown, I recommend her to work all the time in the written word or social media, however, not when I must verbally say her name because this does make me stammer. After a lot of research, I signed up for a course on delivering speech therapy.
This course is very heavily focused on the physical aspects of speech rather than the emotional ones: the mechanics of correctly pronounced words, and a more medical model of speech recovery. My rationale for taking it was this: I know how to help people with emotional health issues, but not the mechanics of speech. I know that many would see this as a departure from counselling, but as a pluralistic counsellor, my question to myself is this: How can I help someone? I am sure there is a demand for speech therapy that can focus on both the physical aspects and the emotional. A lot of discussion in social media has concerned pluralism in therapy, and how different modalities can be blended: that there may not be a one size fits all therapy. So is it really a leap to add a ‘non-counselling’ aspect to already established practice? I would say ‘no’, it is not a great leap, but a very logical step in my own practice. As a pluralistic counsellor, I want to help people by using my strengths, experience, and training to do what I can.
I had speech therapy in my youth. It focused on ways around the issue. As in counselling, I have often worked with clients in a solution-focused way that can work around a life difficulty. In addition, however, in my personal speech therapy, we focused on how my stutter came about and how it affected my here and now—as I have done with clients to address past and present emotional issues.
To this day it is the emotional support, the counselling-like tools, and the personal aspects of speech therapy that have stayed with me. Yes, there was the ‘technical aspects, but to this day it was the therapeutic, supportive relationship that I believed helped me most, and I wanted to add that to my practice.
I know there is a great diversity of thoughts and opinion around pluralistic practice. To me, it is having different options to offer to the person opposite me in the counselling space. Whether a more purist person-centred focus, or solution-focused therapy helping with trauma, or helping with speech, to my mind the words ‘help and support’ are key to practice, and I like to play to my strengths. I have the desire, the patience, intelligence, and most of all, the firsthand experience of a supportive therapist working with me—both physically and emotionally—so that I could overcome my problems.
I would like to finish this blog with a simple question: ‘From your perspective if it helps a person find a road to their own actualization, how big is the leap you would take to help them?’