How to Build a Therapeutic Relationship with a Client Who Stutters

People who stutter face a number of challenges on top of their speaking difficulties. Stuttering may lead to negative emotional and cognitive reactions, both by the speaker and by those in the environment. It can also result in difficulty with communication in daily situations, such as when speaking with people in social situations or when talking at school or at work. Helping people overcome these problems presents a unique opportunity for us as speech-language pathologists.

Listen Deeply

Addressing aspects of the stuttering disorder beyond the speech difficulty requires that we use a broad range of skills in addition to those associated with modifying speech fluency or stuttering. For example, when talking with people who stutter about their emotional reactions to stuttering, we should listen with empathy and respond in a way that conveys validation of their emotions and understanding of their experiences.

Respond Empathetically

To respond with empathy and validation, we must learn to listen for our client’s core messages. A core message involves the speaker’s experiences, their behaviors in a situation, and their emotional reactions to that situation. When we understand our client’s core messages, we can provide a meaningful response that develops our therapeutic alliance and shows them that we are truly engaged.

This meaningful response — sometimes called an empathetic response — conveys to our clients that we heard their core messages and understand their perspective.  Note that this does not mean that we have to agree with that perspective or take that viewpoint. It simply means that we understand what our clients experienced, and that we can convey to them that we listened deeply.

Build Trust

When we show our clients that we understand their experiences, behaviors, and feelings, they will be more likely to open up and talk about their challenges in coping with stuttering. Talking with our clients about the difficulties associated with stuttering and helping them accept those challenges represents a key component of successful stuttering therapy. The process starts with listening well and responding with empathy, leading to the development of a trusting relationship and mutual understanding with our clients.