Practical Thoughts Blog

How do I help my client be more fluent on the phone?

How do I help my client be more fluent on the phone?

A lot of people who stutter have difficulty with the phone. In fact, it’s often cited as one of the most challenging situations. Not surprisingly, improving communication on the phone is often a target of speech therapy.

Most of the time, this therapy takes the form of helping people who stutter be more fluent on the phone. Indeed, this is important. Thus, clinicians often have clients make phone calls and such while using various fluency techniques. The clients find that after a bit of practice, they can be pretty fluent in the therapy room—even when using the phone.

The problem is that they then have difficulty generalizing that success into the real world—when they are in their office, on the phone with a client, and unable The challenge is that fluency strategies aren't likely to work very consistently in really tough situations, like the phone, because there is a huge difference between practicing fluency strategies and being able to use fluency strategies.

Here’s how I try to turns this problem on its head: The issue with the phone is not that the person is stuttering when saying hello or whatever... it's more likely that the person is experiencing a lot of fear of stuttering when saying hello on the phone. Rather than trying to force fluency in a situation where fluency is unlikely because of the fear, I try to help the speaker reduce the fear of stuttering.

If the speaker does not fear stuttering, then the excess physical tension that leads to the block is much less likely to happen. THEN, it will be easier for the person to say hello—whether using a fluency-enhancing strategy or not.

What would I practice in therapy, then? First of all, desensitization to stuttering so that it's not as scary to stutter. Then, I'd be practicing answering the phone WITH intentional stuttering. When my client can do that without fear, then he'll probably find that he's already much less likely to stutter in that situation. The magic is that he really won't care that much about whether he stutters in that situation. That will make the whole thing easier.

This is a general principle: too often, clinicians focus too much on fluency, forgetting that the problem is not really stuttering. Remember, it's okay to stutterthat is not what causes problems in people’s lives. It's the fear of stuttering that affects people's lives. Reduce the fear, and you reduce the adverse impact.

Plenty more to say on this! It’s a key topic in School-Age Stuttering Therapy: A Practical Guide.