Stories of Change



Sherry-ann’s story




James’ story


I’ve been stammering since I was kid. It became this part of me which I swiftly began to distrust and worry about. It would raise up questions: Why did no one else do it? Why does everyone speak so easily? What is this ‘problem’ I have and why does it affect me when I least want it to? These questions never got answered and so I battled on, hoping it would get easier. It didn’t.

Before speech therapy I was chasing a vocal perfection. As an actor and having trained I felt the pressure for vocal ease. Sarah in the sessions talks about walking the ‘tightrope of perfection’ and that’s exactly what it felt like. I was daunted by the seemingly perfect vocal ease my fellow actors breathed onto stage and screen like ships on calm water. I was determined to hide my stammer and join them, only whenever I tried I hit a block. These blocks would come thick and fast. And I would be stuck. I would persist through these moments, not wanting to admit this ‘problem’ I had to anyone, or draw more attention to what I thought was completely obvious and awful to those witnessing it. I would try the tricks that seemed to work for me, mainly avoiding the feared word I would stammer on or by pushing through. These worked for me for years, until they didn’t.

It was then I started to wonder if there was such a thing as a voice therapist. Luckily I came across Sarah’s website and then everything shifted. Before my first session I was willing to give it a go. I felt a need to understand my stammer. To actually book a session is the hardest bit. The rest is pure adventure and self-discovery.

From my first session onwards Sarah showed me how the stammer is actually only the tip of the iceberg; it’s the mountain beneath where the work lies. I was not expecting this. I thought I would be sitting there in the chair reading sentences and maybe changing my mouth shape! Thankfully Sarah’s methods are not that. Instead was a deeper investigation into myself, and many practical tools that I could use.

I learnt so much more about me in my sessions then I’ve done in my entire 28 years. My awareness of things expanded immeasurably and my ‘tricks’ that I used to help me when facing a stammer were actually shown to be not that helpful at all. From working on my thoughts and understanding what thoughts actually are to understanding anxiety and what it is was fascinating. I left each session that bit more enlightened and excited to carry it forward.

Not that it was easy. It felt uncomfortable at times to face things I would have previously avoided; looking someone in the eye when stammering is hard; not to mention leaving a voicemail – then listening to it! But as Sarah said, ‘what you resist persists’ and I had been resisting for a long time. Slowly, with Sarah’s caring support and exercises, I challenged each fear I held on my speech. Eventually what had such power over me lost its grip through de-sensitization exercises and I began to lower my extreme standards I held on speech. And that is why I recommend voice therapy so much; in that through the sessions you are looking at the stammer-monster in the eye, working with it and seeing it’s not that scary after all. Now, if I stammer, I don’t mind. That sounds crazy but it honestly doesn’t hold the fear and shame of before. The anxiety levels around this part of me have dropped dramatically.

The ease I so wanted with my speech I have started to find within myself. And from that it has given me permission to be myself. I wasn’t expecting this. I can’t think of a better gift to give to anyone. You get more then you could possibly want with speech therapy, and I can’t recommend it enough.




Jodie’s story


The unmistakable echo of footsteps fills the small waiting area and the fear that has been gently bubbling away since I emerged from the dirty heat of the tube some thirty minutes ago threatens to boil over and consume me. Staring at my reflection, distorted in the shiny chrome fire extinguisher which stands watchfully at the foot of the twisting bare-wood staircase situated directly in front, I plot a series of increasingly outlandish escape routes.

Half way through contemplating whether it would be morally wrong to ignite a (small) fire using the reflection from my watch so that I might mask my exit in a haze of extinguishing foam and smoke, a pair of yellow and purple shoes begin to creep steadily in to view and all hopes of escape are relinquished. I watch the sunny shoes navigate the sharp left turn located three quarters of the way down the creaky staircase, traverse the final few steps and come to a swift halt at the bottom. Searching for the courage to acknowledge the figure now looming expectantly in front of me, I take one final gulp of air and raise my eyes to address my interlocutor. “Jodie?” To my surprise and subsequent relief I am greeted with a warm, friendly smile and not the snarling jaws that I have spent the past week carefully constructing in my head.

Its been almost two years since I waited nervously for my first speech therapy appointment as an adult and I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. That I am able to sit here and write this is testament to the fact. Up until then I spent most of my time point blank ignoring my stammer, I didn’t want to discuss it with anyone – including myself. I didn’t know how to manage all of the thoughts and feelings that stammering churned up and so I ran away from them; If there was any possibility of avoiding a situation which I thought might be difficult then I did – I changed my name, I ordered things I didn’t want, and more often than not I simply didn’t speak at all.

After one particularly painful incident at university I stood on the platform at New Cross Station and wondered what was next for me; I remember being thankful for the cold, dark air as it soothed my shame burned cheeks, and then as I waited for the train home it suddenly dawned on me – I had spent a lifetime inadvertently building my own prison – In that moment I felt completely trapped by my stammer. I knew then that I had to do something different, that I had to face it.

After doing a little bit of research I came across Communication Liberation and I eventually plucked up the courage to contact Sarah. Initially I was terrified because I had absolutely no idea what to expect; I was worried that I would either be pushed and pilloried into doing things that I really didn’t want or feel ready to do or that I might be given some kind of specific formula or process to follow and left to my own devices. Fortunately all of my fears were completely unfounded. Sarah operates in such a way that you feel completely part of the process, you work together alongside one another – as a partnership rather than a dictatorship, and I think that has been of the utmost importance for me.

I didn’t realise quite how pervasive an effect my stammer had on my life – I was literally ruled by my speech. Since starting speech therapy I am so much more aware of the thoughts and feelings which surround my stammer as well as the physicality of it. I feel like I can finally see it and actually look at it without being utterly consumed by it. And that has been a revelation. I feel more authentically myself than I ever have done.

I am so grateful that I didn’t have time to implement any of my elaborate escape plans because undertaking speech therapy has without a doubt changed my whole life; I am a happier, more content person than I ever really thought I could be. So, if you are reading this wondering whether to take the plunge I would definitely urge you to just give it a go because it might be one of the best things you ever do.




Ross’ story


Having been a stammerer since around the age of seven, I have found growing up to be quite a difficult challenge. Stammering has always seemed to dictate every aspect of my life; who I am, what I do, what I say and the decisions I make.  I spent much of my childhood hiding and avoiding certain situations as best as I could, becoming more and more fearful of everyday life.

I felt as if I was becoming slowly isolated to the point where every day of my life was a stomach-turning challenge. Everything from ordering food in a restaurant, speaking on the phone, going out with friends, reading out loud and even saying my name were always on my mind. The anticipation of stammering during these difficult situations made the pressure of everyday life unbearable. I became very depressed.

As time went by, I began to learn to avoid certain speaking situations by using word substitutions, not saying what I really wanted to, or by simply walking away. Things took a dramatic turn when I was asked my name one day and my stutter was so severe and I felt so pressurised that I said another name that wasn’t my own, simply to end the painful situation. I felt so stupid and so ashamed of myself for letting my stammer get the better of me. I felt so vulnerable, like I had finally been brought to my knees. The situation put my life and my stammer into perspective. I couldn’t ignore it anymore, so I decided that now was the time to seek help.

Firstly, I went to see a hypnotherapist who gave me some insight into hypnosis. However, I felt like he didn’t understand my stuttering and how it really made me feel. Ultimately, hypnotherapy failed to have any effect on me. I felt I needed help that was specific to my stammering and most importantly, I wanted help. That was when I found Sarah at Communication Liberation.

Before I started speech therapy with Sarah, I was a little unsure of what to expect and quite nervous about opening myself up about stuttering. So, Sarah arranged an initial consultation so we could meet and to find out whether speech therapy was for me. Sarah was very welcoming and made the environment a comfortable one that allowed me to speak freely, even when I stammered. I felt very safe and calm in her company and for the first time in my life I felt comfortable about opening myself up about my stutter, and somebody was actually taking the time to listen to me. After that, I felt that I wanted to start speech therapy with Sarah and I am extremely glad that I did.

The way I think and feel about myself since starting speech therapy has completely changed. I feel now that I am more aware of what is going on inside my head prior to or during a difficult speaking situation. I am now more prepared to manage these difficult thoughts and feelings by experimenting with gradual change in my daily habits and unhelpful ways of thinking. I have realised now that the unhelpful thoughts that I have beaten myself up with over the years aren’t necessarily true.

I am also now more aware of how I am feeling physically when I am stammering and when I am about to approach a difficult speaking situation, as well as when I am feeling relaxed. I have learnt that the many things in my life that I have avoided doing or saying even though I want to do or say it has resulted in bigger prices than payoffs and so, avoidance isn’t always the best strategy in long term. I no longer see my stammer as an “it” but rather as a part of me. I accept now that I can’t help the way that I talk. I certainly didn’t feel this way before I started speech therapy. I never expected that I’d ever feel this way.

I also never thought that, after completing speech therapy, I would realise that there are some unique benefits to being a person who stammers. For a long time I have been caught up in trying to please others and have worried constantly about what other people think of me, particularly if I stammered. But I have come to notice that ever since completing speech therapy with Sarah and becoming more in touch with myself and what I am feeling and thinking, I have realised that being a stutterer makes me a more understanding, emphatic, caring and compassionate person.

I feel like my eyes are open now. I feel like I am becoming who I really am, not who I or other people think I should be. These are qualities that matter to me because I feel that I can relate to people on a deep and personal level, particularly people who stammer like myself. Speech therapy has been a wonderful experience for me and Sarah has helped me to realise that the things I was doing to myself before and the pressure I was putting on myself were not at all helpful. I have changed my perspective and the way I view the world around me and the way I view myself, as a stutterer.




Panos’ story


I have been a stutterer since the age of 10. It all caught me by surprise – the first strike was during a reading session in school. My turn came up to read the next paragraph of a text we were studying. I can’t remember how long it took that day to get through a few sentences, but what is certain is that it changed my life in more ways than I could even imagine at the time.

Every day became a test of my survival skills – surviving in a world where I “spoke differently.” I quickly mastered the art of avoidance; I avoided everything that I feared would kick off my stutter, while planning how to get out of upcoming feared situations always preoccupied my mind.

At some point I found the courage to discuss this issue with my parents, and at the age of 13 attended several months of group speech therapy. Focusing mainly on a few speaking techniques, I saw some improvement but had a relapse shortly after my sessions ended. I relied again on my avoidance strategy to get through daily speaking challenges, skipping reading classes at school, saying things using synonyms of difficult-to-articulate words, ordering food I could say easily but didn’t really want at restaurants, and avoiding public speaking at all costs.

While avoidance gave me a sense of relief, it also bothered me because it was holding me back from doing what I wanted. My hopeful side kept wishing it would all just “go away” as I got older, but it never did. I quickly found myself at university, facing the same challenges, making sure I only select courses that do not require presentations or active class participation, never volunteering for presentations and, as in school, not showing up when I had no option but to present in front of a crowd.

At some point I realised that my stutter will not just go away on its own, and most importantly, that I can’t continue my life avoiding everything, particularly when it is affecting important life choices and jeopardising possible career prospects. I decided to take action and after searching for speech therapists in London, I booked an initial consultation with Sarah. From our first meeting I realised that this was an excellent decision, and felt again a sense of hope that something might actually change. I was intrigued by her approach.

While I was expecting to go again through various speaking techniques, we instead focused first on the psychological aspect of stuttering, something new and fascinating to me. This helped me see my stutter and myself in a completely different way. I began questioning all my previous beliefs about the importance of my stutter, what others thought about it, how I thought about it. I became more comfortable with my stutter, to the point where I would discuss it with friends (for the first time ever, after 15 years of knowing some of them!). To my surprise I even discovered, after years of worrying what others thought about it, that some didn’t even recognise that I had a stutter!

I gradually gained confidence and found myself doing things I never imagined I would dare to do. I went from shying away from presentations to volunteering to give presentations even when I didn’t have to. I even volunteered to be interviewed on a documentary about stuttering – during which I was so at ease on camera that I barely even stuttered. With Sarah’s guidance, I approached these occasions, not as dreadful events that had to be avoided at all costs, but as opportunities to practice what we had discussed together and experiment with different techniques to public speaking.

This is not say that I do not stutter at all anymore. Rather, I have learnt, with Sarah’s help, ways to approach fearful situations, strategies to reduce the avoidance mechanism I have relied on for so many years, ways to manage the intensity of my stuttering, and most importantly, how to put my stutter in perspective and not let it dictate my life’s choices. Sarah has also helped me explore various speaking and breathing techniques to find what suits my personal needs, instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach. I am very grateful for her help and would highly recommend her to anyone struggling with stuttering.

Panos, Central London



Andrea’s story

I was 29 when I first started seeing Sarah. Before that, my life was burdened by a covert (secret) stammer which, painfully, my parents never acknowledged. Feelings of being ashamed, unworthy, lost and not understood were my companions throughout my education. At the same time I was perceived as a high achiever by others – I got a masters degree in engineering from a top university. My covert stammer intensified my introverted nature, which made it more difficult to connect with others, which then intensified my fears and made me miserable. I always thought it was my fault that I stammered and if only I worked harder on it, it would disappear – not surprising having been raised in a ‘work-hard’ environment.
After months of pleading my mum for help, I tried a speech language pathologist (SLP) during my high school years. The SLP specialised in helping kids with a stammer and I found myself practicing reading out loud and special breathing techniques. It only helped alleviate my guilt that I wasn’t working on my stammer, but it did nothing for me speech- or fear-wise. Later in life I had a few sessions with John Harrison, the author of Redefining Stuttering, and I started working on my beliefs about my stammer. I also started listening to a podcast called “StutterTalk” that in hindsight helped immensely in slowly finding the road to acceptance of my stammer. Accepting my stammer slowly felt like a more sustainable and kinder path for me; my wish of becoming fluent receded to the background (and stayed there). Then one day I saw Sarah’s contact while causally searching for a therapist online. I didn’t know then, but Sarah would change my life for the better. My main concern about speech therapy was wasting money on something that wouldn’t help. These fears were alleviated after a few sessions.
Sarah and I met for 6 cycles (each cycle consisted of 6 weekly sessions) over a period of 18 months. Sarah was a true companion on my own unique path of exploring all aspects of my stammer. She has this rare gift of imparting a sense of curiosity to everything, even the cringey bits I would rather not look at or forget. This curiosity coupled with Sarah’s patience, empathy and humour helped me slowly melt some of my tightly held beliefs and fears about stammering.
I wasn’t expecting looking forward so much to each session. I found the sessions so insightful that I wrote a summary after each session (next to a cozy mug of hot chocolate), so that I could reread it anytime I wanted. I also developed a sense of patience and kindness towards myself in other areas of my life. I hadn’t been expecting how flexible Sarah was and her willingness to explore anything that is most alive in me during a particular session – stammering related or not. This helped me realise how working on my stammer can influence non-stammer parts of my life and conversely, how working on non-stammering parts can benefit my beliefs and fears around my stammer.
My last session with Sarah was more than a year ago and I feel like Sarah’s sessions gave me a strong foundation that I could build on myself. Even though there are still days I am ashamed of my stammer, the negative voices are quieter and I don’t take them as seriously as before. It feels as if we planted positive seeds in those sessions and most of them are slowly growing and becoming stronger. I even worked as a seller in a patisserie shop for 3 months very recently which I wouldn’t EVER imagine doing.
I know one’s experience of therapy depends heavily on both the therapist and the client, but I am confident that Sarah is one of those special therapists (and people) that could adapt to each client’s wishes. I hope Sarah will touch your life as much as she did mine.

Andreja, London



Olivia’s story


I stammered since early childhood. I thought it will go away once I grow up, but that never happened. I decided for speech therapy as I was held back in my current job as a consultant and in my career progression. I was trying to avoid situations where I had to present or give public speech in any form. (For example chairing meeting, introducing myself, conference calls, making presentation). More I avoided these situations, more I feared.  I felt I could not control my speech anymore.

I had tried all sorts of books, mindful meditation, online videos or visiting a psychologist, which tackled my speech problems short term only. The advice I was often given was to speak slowly or to think before I say something.  I needed somebody who could really understand my stammer and thus I can trust and rely on.

I was concerned the techniques will not work for me. I was worried I left it for too long. However talking to Sarah and clarifying any issues and questions helped me to overcome any concerns. I found the initial conversation with Sarah very helpful in deciding what therapy to choose from. The environment in therapy was always very warm and welcoming.

Sarah was very supportive all the way through. Excellent. She helped me to understand “the iceberg model” and analyse my beliefs, unhelpful thoughts and resulting behaviour. Sarah really understood my stammer and for the first time I felt I could be open about my problems. I started to understand the connection between my thoughts, feeling and my speech.  I was able to apply techniques I learned to my everyday life (for example power of habits, questioning my core beliefs, catching automatic negative thoughts, the importance of not putting so much pressure on being 100% fluent, focus on I “can” rather than “should” or “have to”). I realised that by not avoiding fearful situations, my confidence increased and thus my speech improved.

I don’t avoid as much as I used to, and I can identify unhelpful thoughts. I am also more aware of tension in my body while stammering. I used new techniques such as block modification and more importantly I learned to take my therapy step by step, such as practice new ways of speaking with my friends first, and then gradually moving to more difficult situations.

I had very positive experience with the speech therapy, and I really enjoyed my lessons with Sarah. She is very approachable and helped me to look at my stammer in a different way, questioning my beliefs and thoughts.  She also encouraged me to explore what works best for me.




Veli’s story


I had lost a lot of confidence in my speech and felt like it had cost me opportunities in the past (e.g. not being accepted into medical school because of scoring low on “communication skills” in the interview). Main challenges were things like interviews and phone calls, which I just didn’t feel comfortable or confident approaching.

I had speech therapy when I was a lot younger, but hadn’t tried any other support since then as I was quite happy with my speech and stutter. Then my speech just seemed to be on a downward spiral and I really felt like I needed a helping hand to get back to the level I was at before.

I really enjoyed working with Sarah and she has helped me in so many ways. I didn’t really think I would enjoy speech therapy, I thought it would just be a helping hand and that would be all. But I did find myself becoming more interested and finding it more and more enjoyable as well as being an obvious help.

I have certainly become a lot more confident with my communication skills and I know that my communication won’t hold me back because I can communicate effectively. I have also started to pick up on habitual thoughts about stuttering that I wouldn’t have even noticed before, and that’s the same for the physical sensations during stuttering.

I’d highly recommend speech therapy for anybody who might be struggling with their stutter. It certainly is not embarrassing at all to admit you might need some help and that bit of help might be all you need.

Veli Veli, Medical School Student, Southgate

    Sarah Leach

    Speech Therapist (fluency specialist)

    5 Staple Inn, High Holborn,
    London WC1V 7QH

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