Taking Off the Mask in Melbourne

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear – Nelson Mandela

Most people experience fear in their life. Whether it is fear of spiders, snakes or speaking, we sometimes allow our lives to be limited by what we avoid rather than what we action. We live behind a mask designed to protect us from our fears, but which ultimately serves to reinforce them. And so it was with the six new students who decided to take off their masks of ‘fluent speakers’ - or, more correctly, people who stutter trying really hard to portray themselves as fluent speakers - at the McGuire Programme’s most recent intensive course in Melbourne.

For many years, these students had lived with the fear of stuttering – so much so that most had developed very good coping mechanisms to help hide their stutter. As ‘covert’ stutterers, they had become very successful at hiding the stuttering through the skillful use of tricks (starting each phrase with ‘um’), words substitution (replacing ‘William’ with ‘Bill’) and situation avoidance (meeting new people). One student, Jess, said on the last day of the course “my stutter wasn’t that bad, because I didn’t talk!”. This is typical of many people who stutter.

But while covert stutterers might be able to get through life speaking ‘fluently’ most of the time, their experience of life is like walking through a minefield not knowing what the next step will bring….waiting for that situation they can’t avoid, or when there isn’t a substitute for that word they know will cause a big embarrassing block.

The McGuire Programme “is not about fixing your stutter, it is about changing your beliefs about your stutter”. The programme gives you the control to speak freely and the confidence to step outside your comfort zone.

Student An is studying a Masters of psychology and summed things up nicely when he said the programme “is not about fixing your stutter, it is about changing your beliefs about your stutter”. Student Lachlan also made a significant change in his thinking saying “I’m not like these people…I don’t know why I’m here” on the first night and then saying “These past few days have been some of the best of my life – one of the best feelings I’ve ever had” on the final day.

To move beyond stuttering is to let go of the tricks, substitutions and avoidances we have employed for so long – it means facing our fears, changing our beliefs and allowing ourselves to create the life we want to experience. It means stepping out from behind the masks we wear, and proudly showing the world who we really are. Now that's courageous!

Australia's next intesive course is being held in Brisbane, 13-17 April 2016.