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Remarkable transformation following revolutionary speech programme

December 2, 2009


by Brónagh Murphy

A Crossmaglen man who suffered a lifelong speech impediment has hailed a revolutionary therapy for the treatment of speech disorders that has transformed his life.

P.J. Daly was just three years old when his speech became affected with a stammer.  Throughout his youth, his parents pursued many treatments for him, but all were to no avail.

P.J.’s stammer had become so severe that last year he had to undergo an operation on his vocal chords to correct damage caused by his uncontrolled and often high-pitched voice.  Doctors advised him to seek therapy for his stammering or permanent damage to his voice would be inevitable.

At that time, P.J. says he was ‘at rock bottom’ where his speech was concerned.  As a self-employed mechanic, he found himself avoiding situations where he would converse with customers because he knew he would struggle verbally.

He relied heavily on his wife Paula for day-to-day tasks relating to his work and home life. He admits that while he often answered the phone, he would never make calls because he knew he would not be able to ‘get the words out’.

His stammer was overshadowing his whole life.  Each day began with the worry of what situations he may be faced with and the uncertainty of how he could overcome them.  On the inside, he was not the person he aspired to be.

“I suppose it got to the stage where it was very demoralising.  I was dependent on someone else all the time,” P.J. said.

Now, at the age of forty and with years of speech therapy and hypnosis programmes behind him, P.J. says his life has changed completely in just a few months.

In August he embarked on The McGuire Programme – the only speech recovery programme in the world that is founded and run by people recovering from stammers.  It was founded in 1994 by Canadian Dave McGuire.  Through techniques of concentration, assertiveness and non-avoidance, the programme helps tackle fear of speaking experienced by people who stammer.

P.J. travelled to Galway and spent three days on the intensive residential programme. One of his first tasks was to face a group of approximately 150 people and answer questions from a group mentor.  This scenario was recorded on tape and he describes this moment as his worst fear.

“Everyone knows that talking to a group of strangers is a stammerer’s worst fear.  I was very nervous and my speech came across very bad,” he explained.

Students were then shown how to achieve one of the core principles of the programme – costal breathing.  This technique is paramount to the success of the McGuire Programme and involves taking a sharp intake of breath before speaking – a method often used by opera singers.  Recovering stammerers will use this technique for the rest of their lives.

The second and equally important principle of the McGuire programme is the psychological aspect.  Students must retrain their brain to tackle situations they have spent all their lives avoiding.  They must continually push forward out of their comfort zone.

P.J. points out that the success of the programme relies heavily on the effort put in and he readily admits that it is through sheer hard work and dedication that he has achieved so much in such a short time.

“It is very important that you are prepared to put the work in to this course.  It takes a lot of commitment and if you don’t work hard at it, you’re wasting your money,” he said.

At the end of the course, P.J. had to put his newly acquired skills into practice by approaching members of the public to ask them questions.  He also had to make a public declaration on a busy Galway street that, through the McGuire Programme, he is a recovering stammerer.  He completed these tasks which would once have terrified him – a remarkable achievement in just three days.

Since his initial residential course, he has attended a refresher course and weekly support meetings, some of which he has chaired.  These meetings are instrumental in helping him attain his ultimate goal of being able to speak clearly and eloquently, he says.

All course participants can avail of these support group meetings, which are held locally in Newry and in Emyvale, Co. Monaghan.

The follow up support is as important as the course itself.  Students must telephone their primary coach daily and during the call they will be put through a number of tasks.  They are also encouraged to call other coaches and graduates of the scheme and initiate conversations with strangers. As a stammerer’s default mechanism is always avoidance, this initiative forces them to think ahead and enter the situation in a controlled manner.

Another significant part of recovery is known as ‘deliberate dysfluency.’

“This technique is essentially controlled stammering,” P.J. explained.  “The purpose of it is to advertise yourself as a stammerer.  This immediately removes the pressure to speak fluently and will allow fear of speaking to subside and you can then speak on.  It is a fear reduction tool.”

P.J. says these skills have opened up a new direction.  His fear of speaking was so ingrained that he had to rely on his wife to make the telephone call to book his place on the course.

“If it had have been left up to me to make the initial contact, I would probably not have went on that course,” he said.  “I really wanted to go on it because I felt it was my last option but I was sceptical that it could be this successful.”

Since then, his progress has been life-changing, however he realises that this is not a cure but a lifelong commitment to eloquent speech.

Inspired by his progress, he has been asked to become a programme coach.  He feels this is something he may consider in the future as a way of giving something back to the programme that has changed his and so many other lives.

These factors have all combined to increase P.J.’s confidence remarkably and he feels nothing is out of bounds for him now, as long as he maintains the same level of commitment he is currently showing.

“Pushing my limits reduces the fear and I just wish the programme had been around when I was younger,” he said.  “I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the coaches, instructors and my fellow students on the programme for all the help and support they have given me.”

Course information

The programme is open to stammerers over the age of fourteen and courses are held approximately four times annually.

Joe O’Donnell is the Irish Regional Director.  He can be contacted on (+353) 074 91 25781, (+353) 086 342 9602 mobile or by email on mcguireprogramme@rocketmail.com.

An information booklet on the course which includes frequently asked questions, general information and details of fees can be downloaded from www.stammering.ie.


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