The doctor on the phone asked if I could cure stammers. I told her the truth. I did not know. No one had ever asked me to treat a stammer. I understood there was lots of literature suggesting stammers responded very well to hypnotherapy but admitted I was wary of the claims.
As it was evident that the doctor was not a stammerer, I asked who had the problem. Her son was 17 and had always stammered. He had never not-stammered. I asked what else she could tell me about him. He'd had two years' of weekly speech therapy with no sign of improvement. He had been diagnosed ADHD a few years previously and ritalined. And there were dad issues.
I explained that I might not be able to hypnotize her son, in which case there was nothing I could do, and that even if I could hypnotize him I still did not know if I could help.
The nurse said she was summoned to a hypnotherapist in the West End who guaranteed a positive result. I said she'd better take her son there. She said the West End therapist only spoke about money but I did want to know about her son, so could she bring him to me? We made an appointment.
My son sang in a choir. One of the other choristers, Alec, had a stammer. I'd ask him how he was and he'd say “I'm fer-fer-fe-fine, thank you.” That was the amount of my experience of stammers. It did not prepare me for Chris.
He came with his mum. As usual, I set about taking his case history from him. (I always take the case history from the patient, even when they are seven.) I asked, “When I hypnotize you, what do you want me to do for you?”
“I'd lerrrrrrrrr …” and it had started. I sat and watched in amazement and horror as Chris became increasing wrapped around the word, “like,” he was trying to say. His head jerked down towards his lap. His shoulders folded-round in front of his chest. His heels came off the floor and his knees drew up towards his chin. And for two minutes and thirteen seconds plus whatever time had elapsed before it dawned on me to time it, Chris was completely locked around the word he could not say. When the stammer let him go it literally did that; let him go, and he was able to unwrap himself and sit again again.
It was one of the most pitiful things I have ever seen and I knew, instantly, that I could not do anything to relate him of his stammer – any more than I could help a patient who wanted to get on my couch with one leg and get off again with two.
I asked him if he could stop trying to say the word and get out of the stammer, but no. Once the stammer set in he had no control.
We got down to the dad stuff. He did not want to talk about his dad. I asked his mum. Dad had gone when Chris was two. Chris had not seen him until he was 15, when they met in a restaurant. Dad was drunk, thread insults around about Chris's mother and, finally, hit Chris across the back of his head with a wine bottle, snapping the bottle's neck off. Chris's mum had not been aware of this.
After that, Chris went off the rails; got in with a bad crowd, did some drugs, smoked. Chris thought his dad was the cause of all his problems. His mum asked if I could help with that too.
It's difficult to explain what happened next, not least because I'm pretty sure I should not have done it and absolutely certain I should not admit it here. I said we'd have to wait and see about dealing with the dad stuff as we were here to solve the stammer and that was more than enough to be going on with. What's wrong with that? Well, I thought I could deal with the dad stuff and really wanted to focus on that because I was certain I could not help with the stammer. So, being brutally honest, I was withholding the prospect of treating the dad stuff to make mum, at least, want it more.
I told Chris that, one day, not today but one day, he was going to have to get his dad out of his system. I used the analogy of the scene in the Cowboy and Indian movies when the cavalry officer gets an arrow in his chest. He knows he has to pull it out, but the arrow has a bar so he knows it's going to hurt like hell. But the longer he leaves it in, the longer it will be before the wound can heal. Sooner or later, Chris was going have to find the balls to pull the arrow out.
I finished the case history and invited Chris to lie on my couch. His mum came into the consulting room too and I sat her just out of his peripheral vision.
A wrist-lift induction was followed by a 10-0 countdown which I extended to -5, and then I tried for IMRs. The Yes finger was so strong I suspect Chris was acting (that is, lifting his finger consciously). I said, “Rest and relax,” which is what I usually say to indicate I've seen the response and the finger can go down. It stayed up. So I applied a little pressure with my own finger, and his did not budge. And that, I thought, was interesting. If he'd been acting, he certainly had understood I wanted his finger down. I had to press hard to get it down. I got a thumb from the same hand for No and, again, it refused to go down untilforced. On balance, I still thought he was acting and not quite getting it. His mum, however, was highly impressed and digging into the tissues because his son was (obviously!?!) About to get his miracle.
I asked Chris's subconscious mind if it was ready to give up his stammer?
Yes. (Yeah, right, of course. But mum loved it and reached for another tissue.)
I tried to elaborate. “You see, I do not think there's any point in gradual improvements here.
“So you've prepared to give the stamper up completely, today, here on this couch, are you?”
Yes. (I was trying so hard to get a NO because I knew it was not going to happen.)
“All right then. I'll come back to that in a few minutes. Is that OK with you? ”
“OK. So I'm going to install a tap in his neck just here” (I indicated a spot on his neck which would have been his carotid artery if only his neck had been back to front) “and then I'm going to drain all the hurt away as I count down from five to zero.
I installed the tap. Or, rather, I pressed the blunt end of a small screwdriver against the forecast point and countdown down. Nothing happened except mum needed, and helped herself to, another tissue.
“Now, I told Chris he was going to have to get rid of this arrow” (I tapped his left pectoral) “and throw it away.” (You see, I was still after some kind of positive exit.)
No. (Damn OK, So call me a bad therapist.) I know it's not about what I want. He wanted not-now. Grrr. But it was not a straight forward no. It was a bit no, a bit yes, a bit more no and not a lot more yes. I think I was still in with a chance. .)
“I know, I know. What will life be like without all that stuff? How about this? How about we take it out now and instead of throwing it away, you give it to me. and, if you want, I'll stick it back in? ”
“You just want to leave it in?”
“You want to take it out?”
“And throw it away?”
“Cool. Go on then. Take it out and throw it away.”
His hand came up to his right pec, not his left as I had indicated, and he wrestled with it as he pushed it out. Now he was crying and I was having to queue behind his mum for access to the tissue box so I could wipe his face. He got the arrow out and chucked it. Chris, his mum and I were in Richmond. The arrow was in Armenia.
“Remember you said you were ready to abandon the stammer?”
“Right. Well” (basically I have no idea how to do this, so …) “in a moment I'm going to clap my hands like this.” CLAP. “And the next time I clap my hands like that, drop the stammer, OK? So Chris can express himself clearly and fluently.”
And Chris jerked forwards on the couch, his back and head lifting several inches off the material he had been resting against, before dropping back. Mum was a wreck. And I was desperate. Why? Because I knew I was going to have to wake him up and ask how he was. And he was going to stammer and his mum was going to suffer the biggest disappointment of her life. Everything I'd tried to avoid this result had failed, and I was shafted. I did some other stuff of no consequence to delay the inevitable but finally I had no choice but to wake him.
“Where have I been?” he asked.
“You've been on a journey,” said mum.
“There was this white light.” Bright white light And pain. “Such a lot of pain.” Then you stuck something in my neck and the pain ran away. ”
And I was thinking, 'You have not stammered. Shut up now. Do not say another word. Do not spoil it. '
“Mum? Why were you so sad?”
“What do you mean, Chris?” Mum had been going through the tissues but she had not made any noise.
“Anyway, it's all right mum. Do not be sad.” He looked around the ceiling. “It's gone. I can not stammer. Hey, mum. I can say 'stammer.'”
That was one of several words he had been completely incapable of saying.
“Dad's gone too. Hey, I can say 'dad.' I want to be a hypnotherapist when I'm older.
We chatted, the three of us, for half an hour. No stammer. I tried to play down expectations, explaining that the good news was now now known Chris could be stammer-free for thirty minutes. We've got to see how long it lasted. If it was an hour we could make it 24. If it was a day we could make it a week, and so on.
Chris came back the next week, without his mum. Instead, he bought his girlfriend. He had not had one of them the previous week. In fact, when I opened the door I found Chris, his girlfriend, and two other kids from his college who'd just come to gawp at the guy who gave Chris his miracle. ”
I was lost for words.