• The Iceberg Analogy of Stuttering

    Posted on March 21, 2012 by in Stuttering

    Stuttering is very dynamic. When the general public thinks about stuttering they often think about it the physical act of stuttering. For example, the actual stuttering itself ( ie. repetitions, prolongations, blocks etc.) or the secondcary characteristics (ie. the um, uhh, the facial grimaces, word switching). There is so much more that the general public does not understand unless they have a strong, direct relationship to the person who stutters. Stuttering is not just the physical characteristics, in fact, the physical and mechanical characteristics are only a tiny part of stuttering. As you can see, my logo for my website is in fact the iceberg.  The iceberg analogy of stuttering was first discussed by Joe Sheehan in 1970. The tip of the iceberg, which is the part that is above the water line, represents the mechanical and physical act of stuttering. The tip of the iceberg is very small when compared to the portion below the water line. Why does the tip of the iceberg look so small?

    When we think about stuttering, so much of stuttering is below the surface. The emotional baggage is what lies beneath the surface  It is the things that we can’t see that are most important. The shame, fear, anxiety denial. etc. Many people who stutter have a goal of becoming totally fluent, and some don’t care about complete fluency and simply have a goal of becoming “okay” that they are going to stutter. In both scenarios we must try and chip away at all of that emotional baggage below the waterline. As the bottom of the iceberg decreases, these individuals will no longer care about there stuttering. They will stutter openly without fear or embarrassment.

    What about those people with the goal of achieving more control over their stuttering. Well, now we need to look at how all of that emotional baggage below the surfacecan impact our stuttering. If we have fear, shame, guilt, hopelessness, there is no doubt that we will try to use use every avoidance technique in the book to avoid stuttering. I know I did when I was younger. I switched words, used interjections (umm, uhh), and avoided social situations all the time. We also know that all of that emotional baggage can most definitely exacerbate our stuttering. Lets face it, when we are faced with a stressful situation, it is the fear and the anxiety which causes us to stutter more. So what can we do to deal with this emotional baggage?

    It is so important that Speech therapists target what lies below the waterline. In fact,speech therapists should target are the feelings and attitudes before anything else Fluency techniques(if the client is interested in learning them), can be very helpful for many people, and I will talk more about these techniques in a later blog post, but in my opinion fluency enhancing techniques need to come second. Feelings and attitudes are ALWAYS first priority. Many times, speech therapists will only target the tip of the iceberg, and will neglect to target the emotional baggage below the waterline.  Don’t get me wrong, therapy can be very successful within the therapy session by only targetting the tip of the iceberg. The client may even go home after therapy and demonstrate great fluency…BUT…what happens when they are faced with a stressful situation, like a job interview or a class presentation? You guessed it, most likely their stuttering will resurface or their stuttering severity will increase. The fluency techniques which they learned in therapy have become nonexistant because in order to utilize these techniques, the emotional baggage needs to be addressed.

    Ya know, there is no cure for stuttering, so regardless of how effective or fluency techniques are we will always have moments when we will stutter.  We need to be accepting of this, and in order to be accepting we better start chipping away.

    I was introduced to the Iceberg Analogy by Russ Hicks in 2008 National Stuttering Association conference in Parsippany, New Jersey.

    To learn more about the Iceberg Analogy please visit this is a paper Russ Hicks wrote for the International Stuttering Awareness Day conference in 2003.



2 responses so far.

  1. Asma says:

    First of all, words can’t express my grtidude for such a blog! it’s more than amazing. I would like to ask about how I’m gonna work with my clients who are stutters on their believe system! From where can I start targeting their emotions towards their stuttering moments?

    I would appreciate if you explain that to me!

    Thank You very much!

    • Evan Sherman says:

      Hi Asma,

      Its best to desensitize your clients. Take them outside of the therapy room, but them in stressful siutations and have them talk. I take mine to local supermarkets or stores and have them go up to store employees and ask them where items are. I also take them to outdoor malls and have them stop people and have them administer a survey about stuttering. The more they talk, and even more importantly, the more they talk about stuttering, the more likely their feelings and attitudes will improve and stuttering will have less of a negative impact on their life.

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