Wouldn’t it be great if there were a miracle cure for stuttering? Just take a pill, go though a course or plug in a device and you’ll speak fluently forever! Most of us know that’s not going to happen, but it’s only human to hope.
That’s why alternative treatments for stuttering (other than speech therapy) are so popular on the Internet. Some can be helpful, but others are nothing more than digital snake oil. So it’s important to view them with the same healthy skepticism you use when buying a used car.
Alternative treatments for stuttering are nothing new. They have ranged from motivational courses and vitamins to Botox injections. In a 2002 survey conducted by the National Stuttering Association, adults who stutter reported trying an extraordinary variety of treatments that included electroshock, acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, tongue surgery, Native American sweat lodges and vision quests, and a faith healer.
Not all alternative treatments are this unusual, of course, and some approaches have helped some people who stutter. However, NSA surveys in 2002 and 2009 show that while some respondents had a measure of success with some alternative treatments, none approached the success rate of speech therapy.
Here are some of the alternative treatments that showed up in our surveys. Please note that the NSA does not endorse any treatment that has not been proven to be safe and effective in controlled, published studies.
Pharmaceutical treatments may some day may be effective in reducing the severity of stuttering, especially in combination with speech therapy. While no pharmaceutical medication has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of stuttering, research shows that some anti-psychotic medications approved for other disorders may be helpful and can be administered to older teens and adults by a psychiatrist or physician.
Vitamins and herbal remedies were judged somewhat successful by 25% of respondents in the NSA’s 2009 and not at all successful by 75%. No controlled, published studies exist on such remedies for stuttering, and it’s best to consult a physician in case of side effects or interference with other medications.
Assistive devices change the way you hear your own speech, which helps some people who stutter speak more fluently. In the 2009 NSA survey, about half of those who used assistive devices found them successful in managing their stuttering, particularly those who had speech therapy in connection with the use of their device. But 75% of survey respondents rarely used their assistive device or had stopped using it entirely.
Psychiatry and psychological counseling can help you become a well-balanced, emotionally healthy person who stutters. While this therapy may not have any direct impact on stuttering, it can help address emotional issues such as anxiety and may uncover a mental health condition such as clinical depression. In the NSA study, such counseling was very successful for 14% of respondents, somewhat successful for 44% and not at all successful for 42%.
Neurolinguistic programming, which also deals with perceptions and attitudes, was considered very successful by 11% of survey respondents, somewhat successful by 26% and not at all successful by 63%.
Hypnosis aids relaxation and may help alleviate the tension associated with stuttering. However, fewer than 3% of NSA survey respondents found hypnosis to be very successful. It was somewhat successful for 20% and not at all successful for 77%.
Motivational courses help build self-confidence, and 19% of survey respondents found this to be very successful in managing their stuttering. 49% found it somewhat successful and 32% found it not at all successful.
Speech therapy is significantly more successful than any alternative treatment. The majority of adults and teens who participated in the 2009 NSA study said their speech therapy was somewhat successful or very successful — even though the majority had speech therapy several times and more than eight out of 10 experienced a relapse after improving their fluency in therapy. (link to article on finding a therapist)
Stuttering support participation helps. The majority of survey respondents who attended local support groups or the NSA national conference said support participation was very helpful in improving their self-confidence, practice-speaking in a supportive environment, learning more about stuttering, and exploring attitudes toward stuttering. In addition, adults who participate in support groups are more likely to have successful speech therapy.
Jim McClure is a person who stutters, a professional public opinion researcher and a member of the NSA Advisory Board.