About the Author

Dr Paul Brocklehurst – Founder of the SSEP

I started stuttering suddenly when I was 3 years old. Its onset coincided with being hospitalised with a high fever. Mostly, I produced blocks. I also developed the habit of using force to try and push the words out, as well as head-jerks and other sudden movements.

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Between the age of 5 and 14, I had ongoing speech therapy from a number of different therapists, However, although some of the techniques they taught me helped in the clinic, I found them practically impossible to employ in real-life speaking situations, and the severity of my symptoms continued to increase. At the age of 18, when I first started medical school, my symptoms – which now also included social anxiety – became more severe than ever, ultimately leading me to drop out.

I then moved to Germany, where I eventually joined a Zen group and started a regular practice of mindfulness and meditation. Then gradually, things started to change. The first change was that I developed a robust sense of self-esteem. Then, I started to find myself able to resist the temptation to use force to push through my blocks, and I stopped producing extreme secondary symptoms. Consequently, my stuttering became much less severe.
In the years that followed I returned to England, qualified as a practitioner of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, studied diet and nutrition, and founded a wholefood cooperative called “Nothing but Wholefoods” in Peterborough where I lived. Although my stuttering was now mild most of the time, blocks still occurred, and when they did they still sometimes lasted an inordinately long time. So, despite the overall reduction in its severity, my blocks still posed an obstacle to communication, and I was still afraid that I may relapse.

My situation remained much the same until, at the age of 42, I read about a new psycholinguistic theory of stuttering called the “Covert Repair Hypothesis” which posited that the primary symptoms of stuttering occur when people try too hard to avoid making speech errors. This theory impressed me and from that time onwards, I made a conscious effort not to avoid speech errors and to just carry on speaking regardless of the accuracy of what came out. Almost immediately, I found that my blocks became substantially shorter – so short, that they no longer posed a problem, and my fear of stuttering finally started to disappear.

Once I was confident that the fear had finally gone, I returned to university, gained a first-class honours degree in speech therapy (at De Montfort, Leicester), and then moved to the University of Edinburgh where I completed a masters’ degree in psycholinguistics and a PhD in experimental psychology – researching the relationship between speech errors and stuttering.

In 2012, after gaining my PhD, I set up the “Stammering Self-Empowerment Programme”, the aim of which was to develop a new therapeutic approach to stuttering based on a combination of the psycholinguistic theory that I had researched at Edinburgh and the mindfulness practice that had helped me so much. Ever since then, I have been working with people who stutter refining and perfecting this new approach and adapting it to stutterers’ differing needs. The main outcome of this work has been the development of the Stammering Self-Empowerment Programme’s free Online Course for people who stutter. Over the past few years, after much experimentation, this new approach has started to bear fruit, insofar as a proportion of the people who stutter who work their way through online course report that it has brought them significant lasting relief – both from their overt stuttering symptoms as well as from the fears and anxieties that accompany it.