As anyone who stutters will attest, one of the most frustrating aspects of the problem is that neither family nor friends truly can empathize with the agony that the stutterer goes through each time that he tries to speak. They can see the effects of excess muscle tension-pursed lips, quivering jaw, involuntary facial and head movements-as well as observe the embarrassment that stuttering often causes. But try as they might to identify with those feelings, the most that they can do is offer compassion.
Even speech therapists, with valuable training and clinical knowledge, cannot offer treatment from the perspective of having experienced the problem themselves. That is, most therapists cannot offer such treatment. Ross Barrett is a rare and successful exception.
Barrett approaches the treatment of stuttering not only with an uncommon method, but also with singular experience. The simple fact that he stuttered well into his adult life would qualify him, in many stutterers' eyes, to lead a therapy program. What attracts the attention of stutterers and non-stutterers alike, however, are his Master's Degree in speech pathology from the University of Cincinnati and his long record of success in helping his students establish and maintain fluency.
To achieve this success, Barrett uses the Precision Fluency Shaping Program, which helps stutterers retrain their speech muscles to produce fluent speech. It was developed at the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia. Barrett offers it at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia.
The program is centered around the fact that the physical act of stuttering is nothing more than distorted muscle movements. Certain movement patterns produce fluent speech and patterns other than those produce disfluent speech. Most stutterers have spontaneous fluency from time to time but since it is not the result of conscious effort, they cannot control or maintain it. By understanding the mechanics of speech and acquiring new muscle-movement patterns in a step-by-step manner, most stutterers leave the program with controlled fluent speech. "No one can 'cure' stuttering," says Barrett. "But those who learn and apply the PFSP techniques can achieve long-term controlled fluency. I can provide the tools and the benefit of my experience as a stutterer, but each group member must contribute commitment and hard work to be successful."
While Barrett emphasizes each student's own role in his or her success, invariably his students stress the advantage of receiving instruction from someone who himself battled stuttering. He completed the Precision Fluency Shaping Program in 1972, and not long after he dedicated his professional life to helping other stutterers achieve and maintain the same level of fluency that he reached. Two decades later, his experience and his personal and professional successes speak for themselves.
"When Ross instructs you on what to do and how to do it, you listen, because you know that he has been in your position, and you see what PFSP can do," observed a recent graduate of the program. "You can tell that he has an understanding of what you're going through, as well as a true desire to help."
The fact that motivation plays an important part in any type of success is not lost on the student-turned-teacher. When asked what impels him to do this work, Barrett replies, "My motivation is the fluent speech that I hear at the end of each program -- and I enjoy the smiles, too."
“I have been speaking horribly for more than half my life and in the time I was here-this is an amazing improvement. It’s really mind boggling how this can happen so quickly.„
—Michael Ennis, age 26, New Jersey