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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for stuttering

Stuttering is a distressing and disabling physical condition. It is also extremely commonly associated with Social Anxiety Disorder and in this group this type of anxiety is characterised by specific unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a widely used psychological treatment that has shown significant effectiveness in treating Social Anxiety Disorder. This Disorder is characterised by a persistent fear of social situations where the person feels they may be judged or scrutinised and can severely limit personal and professional relationships and overall quality of life.


There is a notable association between social anxiety and stuttering. Stuttering primarily affects an individual's fluency of speech, and it can contribute to or exacerbate social anxiety, particularly in social settings where communication plays a crucial role. Individuals who stutter frequently report heightened levels of anxiety in a broad range of social interactions, fearing negative evaluation or embarrassment about their speech difficulties.


CBT addresses social anxiety by focusing on the thoughts and behaviours that sustain anxiety. The most commonly employed strategies for cognitive behavioural treatment of Social Anxiety are Cognitive restricting, behavioural experiments and exposure therapy. Cognitive restructuring involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety, such as fear of negative evaluation by others. For someone who stutters, these thoughts might include overestimating the likelihood that others will react negatively to their stuttering and catastrophising the costs if that were to occur.


Behavioural experiments are designed to test the beliefs that contribute to social anxiety. For instance, a person might experiment with speaking in a group to learn that others react more positively than expected, which can decrease anxiety over time.


Exposure therapy involves gradually and repeatedly facing feared social situations. This has been demonstrated to markedly improve anxiety. For someone who stutters, this might involve practice sessions in progressively challenging communicative situations, which can help desensitise them to the fear of speaking and reduce avoidance behaviours.


CBT can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals dealing with stuttering. By reducing the fear and avoidance of social interactions, CBT helps individuals engage more fully in life. The therapy supports them in developing healthier perceptions of social interactions and their abilities, thereby improving social and communicative competence. Overall, CBT provides a structured approach that addresses the specific challenges faced by people with stuttering, with or without Social Anxiety, enabling them to lead more fulfilling and less restricted lives.


Gus has had a longstanding interest in Stuttering linked to his participation as a research clinician in clinical trials on social anxiety and stuttering run by the Australian Stuttering Research Centre.

Do you need help with stuttering?

Contact Dr Gus Norris via the form below, and we will be in touch to assist you in making an appointment. 

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