I gained a BA in English Literature as a mature student. I followed this with a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Communication and, at the age of 40, qualified as a Speech & Language Therapist. To support my work I did further training and gained an advanced diploma in Humanistic Integrative counselling in 2001.
I joined the MEd Counselling programme in 2004. I chose to study at Bristol because it offered exactly the course I was interested in – an MEd in counselling offering a Narrative Therapy pathway.
Over many years of working with people who stammer, I became convinced of the value of counselling for the clients I worked with and was committed to principles of respect and value for each individual. Principles of the social model of disability and narrative medicine, which foster a holistic approach to health-care, became key influences. I considered these ideas highly relevant to my client group and looked for ways of bringing my therapy more in line with social model thinking.
My literature degree had introduced me to post-structuralist thinking through literary criticism. This had caught my interest and, later, these ideas challenged the influential medical model within which most Speech and Language Therapists train and work. Discovering narrative therapy, influenced as it is by post-structuralism, rekindled much of my original excitement when introduced to post-structuralism. This approach seemed to encompass aspects of narrative medicine and disability theory and fitted well with my model of stammering and what might help. I could see the relevance of narrative practices for adult stammering therapy. When I came across the University of Bristol’s MEd in Counselling, which offered a ‘narrative pathway’, I applied for a place, was accepted and joined the programme. By embarking on the Master’s programme, my journey as student, therapist and counsellor had come full circle.
I valued my time at Bristol. As a distance student I took the modular programme, which fitted well with my work/family commitments. I immersed myself in narrative therapy through reading and took the opportunities offered by the counselling department to attend additional one/two day narrative based workshops. Jonella Bird’s workshop and the ‘Just Therapy Team’ workshop were inspiring and challenged some of my assumptions as a therapist and counsellor. They offered alternative ways of conceptualising therapeutic relationships. This allowed me to broaden and develop my work as well as meet other students interested in exploring alternative ways of working.
Although being a distance student did not allow me to benefit fully from the academic environment, the additional 1 day training programmes and e mail groups created connections which allowed me to communicate with other students undertaking counselling Master’s Programmes. The ‘e mail narrative network’ offered a means of support, helped me to feel part of the wider group and proved a valuable ideas exchange.
During my Master’s, I took a year out to care for my mother who was terminally ill. Due to my own on-going health problems, I was not able to finish the course and completed the Counselling Diploma in 2010 instead.
As a result of my mum’s illness and my own health problems, completing my assignment was delayed by almost two years. So much time had passed since I had taken the classes I wondered whether I would be able to complete the outstanding piece of work required. Having been off work for some time I had also lost confidence in my ability to incorporate new ideas into my work.
As part of the ‘Narrative Consultative Supervision’ module on my Master’s course, I had participated in a Consultative Supervision ‘reflecting team’, whose discussions my supervisor, Jane Speedy, had captured on video.
In these later years, as I re-connected with the literature, re-read my notes from the module and watched the video, I was reminded of the discussions and comments of the reflecting team. Re-reading my notes, capturing the words of others in the supervision group and hearing their words on the video, reminded me of other stories of myself as therapist, providing a form of acknowledgement which restored my sense of achievement and competence. Interestingly, I found myself bringing some narrative ways of working back into my work.
I was struck by the fact that, even after such a long time, re-engaging with these ‘consultative supervision practices’ had connected me with others, sustained me and re-connected me with a different story of mine, that of ‘taking daring steps.’ My experience reinforced my belief in the value of Reflecting Teams as supervision but also for the people I work with as a way of capturing their new stories/preferred identities as people who stammer.
Jane Speedy was a major influence on me and is someone who continues to inspire. She was my tutor throughout my time at Bristol. Her energy, enthusiasm for her subject and commitment to the course and students was infectious. Jane was interested in my thoughts and ideas and was encouraging as well as challenging. Even when I might have felt I had only the barest threads of an idea I often found I left a tutorial with a way forward, feeling ‘I can do this’. Jane brought fun into learning and I have since managed to take the spirit of this into my own work.
I hadn’t expected my study at Bristol to influence my career in the way that it did. I had felt that, in the main, it would offer an additional ‘tool’ to use that might benefit the clients I work with. I’m really proud of having managed to incorporate narrative ideas and practices into stammering therapy.
Having completed the Counselling Diploma in Narrative Therapy, I began to draw on narrative ideas and practices in my work. The response of clients strengthened my commitment to further develop a narrative-based practice and I went on to devise an adult stammering therapy course integrating narrative ideas and practices within a ‘Block Modification’ approach to stammering therapy. I have now shared this work at national and international speech & language therapy conferences and written about it in numerous articles.
I have contributed two chapters to a stammering therapy book, called Stammering Therapy from the Inside: New perspectives on Working with Young people and Adults, which has been recently published. One of my chapters is called ‘New stories of stammering: a narrative approach’ and explores the relevance of incorporating narrative ideas and practices into group stammering therapy. The other looks at individual therapy and draws on narrative practice as well as person centred counselling. I feel sure that had I not come to Bristol to pursue my interest in Narrative Therapy I probably wouldn’t have made this contribution to the book.
I feel very proud of this achievement as, having come to higher education rather late, it is not something I ever envisaged I would do. More importantly, it has been a collaboration between clients and therapists, the value of which I came to appreciate on the narrative course and which has offered a different platform for myself and other therapists to explore aspects of stammering therapy and to develop the therapy we offer based on this collaboration.
The launch of the book will be celebrated at a reception at the House of Commons. Writing for it was a challenging task, particularly as I sometimes felt alone with these ideas. However, the stories I engaged with sustained me as did the feedback I received from my tutors and peers.
I plan to continue my work with narrative ideas and practices, hopefully further developing the incorporation of narrative ways of working into stammering therapy. I am keen to share these ideas with other Speech & Language Therapists and to be involved in any conversations and debates this work may raise. In order to do this, I have devised and run a one-day workshop in Narrative Therapy in speech therapy for qualified Speech and Language Therapists. Next year I plan to extend the workshop to two days.
A client who stammers and I have a plan to co-edit a book of stories by adults and children who stammer. We will include our own stories. We envisage the book will be for parents, young people and adults who stammer, offering stories of hope and inspiration. Any proceeds will go towards a therapy centre for adults and children who stammer.