Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stuttering as a mindbody disorder

Stuttering as a mindbody disorder – basic information

By Peter Louw

(This is the basic info document from my "Stuttering as a mindbody disorder" Facebook group, which can be joined HERE. )

What is a mindbody disorder?

Modern views of mindbody disorders are based on the pioneering work of Dr John Sarno, MD (1923-). According to him, many ailments that are usually regarded as physical have their origin in the subconscious mind. This is actually a very old idea with a long tradition; but with the phenomenal rise and great successes of scientific medicine in the 20th century the concept of psychosomatic disorders, which in the 1940s was still an accepted part of medical studies, generally fell in disfavour within the medical establishment.

Today, Dr Sarno is generally regarded as the "father" of TMS (tension myositis syndrome, aka The Mindbody Syndrome). This is not (yet) an officially recognised medical condition, though various prominent doctors do acknowledge that it exists. In reality so many people have been healed by TMS treatment that there cannot be any doubt that TMS exists. The proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Need proof? Just read the hundreds of Amazon readers' reviews of Dr Sarno's best known book, Healing Back Pain:

It would seem that some people have a tendency to channel or direct their stress to a particular part of the body, which then experiences pain or some other disorder. The body part could be the neck (neck pain), lower or upper back (back pain), stomach (ulcers, heartburn), colon (spastic colon), the head (certain headaches / migraines), the nose (sinus issues), eyes (dry eyes), hands (carpal tunnel syndrome), legs (e.g. night muscle cramps), skin (certain skin disorders), "growing pains", eating disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome etc. Even some psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression may have their primary cause in the subconscious.

From a TMS point of view, more and more health issues that used to be regarded as purely physiological / neurological are being suspected of having an underlying subconscious cause. Have a look at this list of suspect ailments in the TMS Wiki:

Within the TMS community, stuttering is also frequently regarded as a type of TMS. In 2011, Dr Howard Schubiner MD, a TMS practitioner, wrote a short article in which he analysed the movie The King's Speech from a TMS viewpoint (read his article further below).

Two factors apparently shared by both stuttering and TMS make me think that stuttering could indeed be related to TMS:

1) Some kind of stress or tension.

2)  A spasm or cramp in the affected area, resulting in pain (e.g. back pain) or other disturbance. Dr Sarno believes that these spasms (often muscle spasms) are caused by slight hypoxia (reduction of oxygen) within the affected area and that the subconscious creates this hypoxia via the central nervous system. Is it far-fetched to think that this also happens to the muscles of the vocal cords of people who stutter? In this connection I refer to the work of Dr Martin F. Schwartz, who has devoted a great deal of his life to the hypothesis that stuttering is preceded by a tension-related "locking" or "freeze" of the vocal-cord muscles.

Incidentally, this hypoxia hypothesis is supported by recent research which found reduced blood flow to the speech centres of the brain during moments of stuttering. Perhaps the central nervous system reduces blood flow and creates mild hypoxia within the speech centres, thereby messing them up and resulting in the dyscoordination of the vocal-cord muscles, resulting in stuttering? Here is the link to the blood flow research:

What is the cause of a mindbody disorder?

It is believed that some people more than others are genetically predisposed toward developing TMS.

Dr Sarno believes that TMS is caused by a conflict, or mis-alignment, between the conscious and the subconscious. Strongly influenced by Dr Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, Dr Sarno regards repressed feelings as a crucial factor in TMS. Anger / rage in particular is the usual suspect, but sadness, loneliness, fear, shame and guilt are also often identified as causing or increasing TMS. As I understand Sarno, the primitive part of the central nervous system regards these feelings as threatening, tries to make them go away and represses them, and can even, in predisposed individuals, create physical symptoms in an effort to distract the conscious mind away from the inner turmoil. For the primitive inner child-animal (the "id" in Freudian terms), happiness and survival are priorities, and these priorities are threatened by strong emotions that could upset the status quo. 
Other TMS experts regard the external symptoms as the voice of the subconscious, primitive inner child-animal part of the brain. We all have an inner child / animal, whose primitive needs are often ignored in our busy daily mature lives. If severely ignored, the inner child-animal may become enraged – not unlike a real child or animal! – and lash out in the form of TMS. Note that this inner rage can be quite substantial … like a slumbering volcano or a sleeping but ferocious wolf. Don't underestimate it!

How is TMS treated?

Healing, not surprisingly, entails becoming aware of such repressed feelings, continuously discharging them and bringing them out into consciousness. This should reduce the large "pool" of rage and other emotional energy accumulated within the subconscious through the years.

In many cases, merely READING a TMS book has cured some TMS sufferers. This is what is called "knowledge therapy" – when the individual becomes aware of the subconscious emotional origins of their symptoms, the symptoms often disappear as the subconscious realises that its trickery has been "found out". So it stops trying to distract the person via the symptoms.

In most cases, however, the subconscious mind needs more convincing before it will stop its mischief. Usually there are two phases: Firstly the CONSCIOUS mind needs to be totally convinced that the symptoms, though absolutely real and not a figment of the imagination, are being produced through the central nervous system with the purpose of distracting you from the actual inner conflict (which the primitive subconscious regards as more threatening to the individual's wellbeing than the TMS symptoms). Secondly – and most importantly – the SUBCONSCIOUS mind, too, needs to be convinced.

All this convincing can be done through reading TMS books, Facebook discussions (join the TMS Facebook group! – address below), introspection / self-talk, and journalling (writing about your issues in a diary / blog / Facebook etc.). Journalling especially is a major tool in TMS treatment. The more you do this, the deeper these concepts will sink into your subconscious, where true healing occurs. If the subconscious at last realises that its distractions have been discovered, it tends to stop its distractive efforts. For those who wish to do TMS exercises – the TMS Wiki has a free online procedure (see below for the address), while several books also provide similar procedures (see below). Severe cases may also find outside support and counselling helpful, such as from a trained mindbody doctor / practitioner (if you can find them in your area!).

Can all this help people who stutter?  

If stuttering is a type of TMS, as many TMS sufferers believe, there should be no reason why TMS treatment cannot help people who stutter. Read the TMS literature (and do any exercises) as if it applies to stuttering.

Dr Howard Schubiner MD believes that stuttering is indeed a type of TMS. Read his short article here:

Applied to stuttering, I would think that the following ten TMS healing principles would be useful:

1) Start reading! It's what Dr Sarno calls "knowledge therapy". Read at least ONE of the books on TMS mentioned below, as if it also applies to stuttering. Even better: read it TWICE! Or else read two books. The more the better! Allow these ideas to SINK IN DEEPLY into the subconscious, where the healing process begins.

2) As far as possible, don't let any stuttering worry you. In terms of TMS theory, the "purpose" of the stuttering blocks is to keep your mind occupied with physical symptoms, such as stuttering, distracting you from repressed emotions that threaten to come to the surface. Don't over-worry about the blocks / stuttering,  because that's exactly what TMS wants – it wants you to think about stuttering as a physical, neurological issue; it DOESN'T want you to begin thinking about any inner emotional issues. So try to identify any hidden emotions that might actually be behind the stutter.

3)  Beware of perfectionism! Many people who stutter are also perfectionists, and so are TMS sufferers. Perfectionism is highly enraging to the inner child-animal (which can be compared to a lazy couch potato who loves pleasure and beer and hates discipline – great excuse to let your hair down … J ). You must do everything in your power to avoid perfectionism which just feeds subconscious rage. Goodism, the tendency to be as ethical and moral as possible, is also a form of perfectionism.

4) Work on being (or becoming) assertive. Assertiveness can be seen as a mild and socially acceptable form of aggression. By being assertive you will discharge some of the inner rage which may be feeding your stutter. For a short summary of assertiveness as a tool in improving fluency, check out the following chapter of my free online book, Coping with Stuttering: .  And for an excellent TED talk on how a few assertive body positions will actually change your body chemistry to make you more relaxed and assertive, check out the following:

5) Begin working on those hidden emotions; identify them and allow them to come out into the open. Get in touch with your feelings. Journalling and similar involvement (mentioned above) should greatly help you in this. If necessary, try the TMS Recovery Program (see below) or other support mentioned below.

6) Don't regard the TMS – the stutter – as the enemy which should be fought at all costs. Stuttering is your inner child's primitive voice. Listen to its message and learn from it. Soothe and pamper the inner child. Once you have understood the message, the voice should fade.

7) The TMS explanation is not for everybody, and many if not most people will reject it. Partly this is because, for many people, it is easier to deal with physical, socially acceptable symptoms than with the underlying psychological pain.

8) Should we continue using fluency techniques, such as Slow Speech and Passive Airflow? Dr Sarno would say that such techniques address the overt symptoms, but not the psychological cause. Earlier in his practice he did make use of physiotherapists to deal with the TMS-related pains of his patients; but later he let the therapists go, instead focusing exclusively on the psychological pain which causes symptoms. 

Having said that, he does approve the limited use of painkillers when necessary in the case of e.g. severe back pain. I would say it's up to the stuttering individual whether to use fluency techniques or not if this makes life easier; but always keeping in mind that such techniques merely provide symptomatic relief and do not address the true cause. The same probably goes for other adjuncts such as stress management and stress-reducing supplements. These are helpful where the stress is from other sources not related to TMS; but where stress results from TMS it is the TMS which should in the first place be tackled.
9)   The major role that CONDITIONING / LEARNING plays should not be forgotten. It plays a huge role in general TMS, so one can expect it to have the same impact in stuttering – where people have been stuttering for decades, the behaviour is probably deeply entrenched. Even so, it might just be that, when the original psychological cause is exposed through TMS treatment, the central nervous system stops feeding the stutter. So I don't think we can expect sudden miracles, because the conditioned responses of many years are still in place. What we can expect is that the intensity of stuttering may begin to drop and hopefully start withering away, because it is no longer being fed.

10) VISUALISATION should be very useful in working on the subconscious. Visualisation is such a powerful tool in modern self-help and it always surprises me how little this is used. At the time when I had TMS-related lower-back pain, I visualised the blood vessels in my back as huge pipes, carrying enormous amounts of blood rushing in waves through the area – to counteract the mild hypoxia (lack of oxygen) which, according to TMS theory, causes painful cramping. In the same way one could visualise oxygen-rich blood rushing toward the vocal-cord muscles, and / or to the speech centres of the brain, so as to prevent a stutter. Have a look at this short chapter on visualisation in my free online book:

As far as I know, this is the first time that TMS principles are applied to stuttering. But will it in fact be of use in real life? Maybe you would like to try it, perhaps adjusting the theory to your own experiences? You would be a true pioneer, charting unsailed waters and perhaps creating history.       
Thanks for reading this article! Below please find some relevant links:

A few sources of practical TMS support:

The TMS Facebook group. (A smart, active and helpful group.) Join them here:

The free online TMS Wiki. (Very comprehensive.) Check it out here:

The free TMS Recovery Program:

The MindBody Workbook: a 30-day program, by Dr David Schechter MD, 1999 (Very helpful, but spelling errors irritate; should have been proofread):

Recommended reading ("knowledge therapy"):

The Great Pain Deception: Faulty Medical Advice Is Making Us Worse, by Steven Ozanich, 2011 (Very dramatic, very comprehensive but rather lengthy; intentionally repeats himself often so that the ideas can sink in deep):

Any of Dr John Sarno's books, such as:

The Divided Mind: the Epidemic of MindBody Disorders, 2007 (Articles by Dr Sarno and like-minded doctors, also covers topics not covered in other TMS books.):

No comments:

Post a Comment