The British film The King's Speech, which has been nominated for seven Golden Globes, will open in the UK on general release on January 7. A speech language pathologist discusses how stuttering is central to the film.
The King's Speech had its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the People's Choice Award and is hotly tipped for success at this years Oscars. The BBC report that Colin Firth is thought likely to gain a second Best Actor nomination for his role of King George VI in the movie.
The King's Speech also stars Helena Boham Carter, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Ehle,Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall and Anthony Andrews.
The film, which has been on limited release in the United States since November, tells the true story of King George VI and his struggle to overcome his stutter with the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who is played in the movie by actor Geoffrey Rush.
Logue began a practise in Harley Street in 1924 and co-founded the British Society of Speech Therapists in 1935. He used a technique called fluency shaping to help King George VI with his stutter/stammer.
According to figures from the British Stammering Association 1% of the British adult population has a stammer. This is equal to approximately 459,000 adults.
I interviewed Dr Glen Tellis by email. I began by asking:
Can you tell me more about your work at the speech-language pathology programme?
"I am a professor and chair of the speech-language pathology program at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania and one of about 200-250 board-recognized fluency specialists in the world. I use cutting-edge advanced technology to conduct research in my field. I joined the faculty here in 2006 and have increased enrollment by more than 100 percent. The program currently has 150 students. The growth in enrollment has also enabled us to hire additional faculty and staff to support academic instruction and provide services to our in-house Speech- Language and Hearing Center."
"Students in our clinic work under the direct supervision of licensed faculty and staff. We provide services to the under-served populations of Northeastern Pennsylvania who often have no insurance or cannot afford treatment at medical centers. We have many specialized clinics including a stuttering clinic for children, adolescents, and adults."
Could you explain more about fluency shaping and how it helps people who have a stutter?
"The goal of fluency shaping is to have the person who stutters become as fluent as possible. Speech-language pathologists who use strictly fluency shaping procedures do not address feelings and attitudes related to speech because they believe that if a person becomes fluent, then the negative emotions associated with stuttering will disappear. Fluency shaping can include several strategies including airflow management, continuous phonation, reducing the speech rate,and stretching the initial sound to smooth out the word."
"Treatment usually begins at the vowel,syllable, word, or phrase level followed by gradually increasing the length and complexity of the utterances while maintaining fluency. Some therapists who use fluency shaping also use a delayed auditory device to teach clients to slow the rate and stretch the initial vowel or syllable in a sentence. This device makes the person hear his or her own speech slightly delayed. To overcome the delay, the person who stutters must talk slowly, reduce rate, and stretch out the vowels."
Can you tell me more about other therapies that are available?
"Other therapies with adults include stuttering modification and cognitive behavioral therapy. Many people who stutter experience fear, avoidance, guilt, shame, and embarrassment related to stuttering. In stuttering modification therapy, the person will still stutter but will stutter differently. The form and shape of stuttering will be changed."
"Stuttering modification includes motivation (the person needs to be motivated to confront stuttering throughout therapy),identification (catalogue and categorize all speech behaviours and non speech behaviours,attitudes, emotions, avoidances, etc), desensitization (to remove the negative emotions associated with stuttering and to gain control of stuttering), modification (changing the way a person stutters by using therapy techniques of cancellations, pullouts, and preparatory sets),and stabilization (the person who stutters becomes his or her own clinician and uses the new speech patterns in all situations)."
"Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or examining the attitudes and anxious feelings associated with stuttering is another therapy for stuttering. For children different therapies are usually used, including indirect approaches, parent managed therapies, and immediate feedback (response contingent feedback)."
And your opinion of the film 'The King's Speech'?
"There are many positive reviews about the movie in our profession. This is the first major Hollywood movie that has a lead actor who stutters and a supporting actor as a speech-language pathologist. It is also refreshing to see stuttering in a positive light when compared to some previous movies like “My Cousin Vinnie” or “A Fish Called Wanda” where persons who stutter are depicted negatively."
"The King’s Speech is about England’s King George VI being treated for his stuttering by an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Prince Albert who stuttered became King George VI when his older brother, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. King Edward VIII could not remain king and marry a divorcee because he was the head of the Church of England and by law he was not allowed to marry a divorcee."
"King George VI was able to speak publicly during the war by using some of Logue’s techniques. King George spoke on live radio when speeches could not be edited. Logue uses some techniques that are still used today – specifically, some aspects of fluency shaping, stuttering modification, masking, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Logue used airflow management, tongue twisters, diaphragmatic breathing, pausing before certain words, stretching words, humor, counseling, positive reinforcement, and empowerment. He also assured his patients that nothing was psychologically wrong with him and that he could treat them successfully."
"There is no cure for stuttering but it can be managed effectively. What is neat is that the film did not show the usual Hollywood ending. King George VI still stuttered but he used techniques to effectively change the way he stuttered. In the end, King George VI was not cured but managed his stuttering effectively. He finally accepted his stuttering and entered speech situations even though he stuttered sometimes during these situations."
"Screenwriter, David Seidler, who himself stuttered interviewed a son of Logue – who had his father’s diaries. But he insisted that Seidler get the blessing of Queen Elizabeth’s mother (George’s widow) before he pitched the movie. The Queen Mother requested that any movie be produced only after she passed away because the memory of the events was too painful for her."
Dr. Tellis also told me more about Lionel Logue:
"There were no verifiable records of what treatment techniques he used for stuttering (stammering). Accounts of what occurred during therapy sessions are based on Logue's and the King's personal writings. The King died in 1952 and Logue died in 1953. In 1937, the King made him a member of the Royal Victorian Order."