17 Aug 2022

The power of speaking like a king

THE new film The King's Speech, in which Britain's King George VI attempts to overcome a severe speech impediment and which is already being tipped for an Academy Award, is also "highly recommended" by one local man who is a recovering stammerer.

THE new film The King's Speech, in which Britain's King George VI attempts to overcome a severe speech impediment and which is already being tipped for an Academy Award, is also "highly recommended" by one local man who is a recovering stammerer.

The film presents a stark portrayal of what a person faces when trying to confront a stammer – and anyone who identifies with the lead character's troubles can also find help in Kilkenny.

In a word, the film is "wonderful", said Wexford resident and recovering stammerer Philip Reilly, who attends fortnightly support meetings in Kilkenny.

"The strength is that, up to now, stammering in films such as A Fish Called Wanda the stammering character was used to comic effect," he said after watching The King's Speech on its opening day on Friday.

This new film, on the other hand, examines the struggle of Britain's King George VI (Colin Firth), who seeks the assistance of various therapists – all highly unsuccessful – until he finally finds effective treatment from therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

"You feel the man's absolute fear and mental anguish," Mr Reilly said of the film.

Using the analogy of an iceberg of which only the above-surface is visible, he said a speech impediment may be obvious when a person speaks, but that is a mere 10% of the problem. The other underlying 90% is the psychological turmoil, the feelings of shame and inadequacy that lurk under the surface.

"That comes out in the film," he said. "You will have that sussed in the first five minutes."

Smoking and marbles

Some of the methods tried by the king's earlier therapists in the film are laughable, except that the results are so serious.

"One of the king's first therapists says that he should smoke to release the larynx and make him relax. As a result, the king became a chain smoker and eventually died of lung cancer," Mr Reilly pointed out.

Another attempt was a "cure" used in ancient Greece by the statesman and orator Demosthenes, who had a stutter. His method was to fill his mouth with pebbles on the beach, and in The King's Speech one of the therapists advises the king to fill his mouth with marbles.

The therapist Lionel Louge, on the other hand, focused more on managing the breath when speaking and tackling a person's underlying fears and psychological challenges.

The latter is more along the lines of the McGuire Method, which is now widely used and receives high praise from many who have participated in its workshops and follow-on support groups.

"Before I joined, I would have stammered on every word," said Mr Reilly, who has been involved in the McGuire Programme since 1999, having struggled with a stammer since the age of four.

"The fear that they portray (in The King's Speech) isn't understated at all. That is pretty much the level of fear that I would have felt," he said.

Being a teenager was bad enough, and he then went on to work in Eircom communications before the days of fax machines and the internet – in other words, when an ability to speak over the phone was paramount.

"In every job interview, you now see they emphasise that you have to have excellent communication skills, and for a stammerer that is quite a hostile world," he said.

For example, he added, "politicians are not necessarily elected for what they do; it's how they come across."

People who can't rely on the power of speech to communicate are therefore at a disadvantage in multiple ways, he said "but the McGuire Programme has allowed me to compete on equal terms as others."

The difference, he said, "is that when I get into a challenging situation, I now expect to succeed. Before the programme, I had the absolute belief that I would fail; there was no way I could believe anything else."

Information day in Kilkenny

For anyone interested in learning more about the McGuire Programme, an open day is being held on January 22 from 1-3pm in the Springhill Court Hotel, Kilkenny.

Speakers on the day will include recovering stammerers who will discuss how their lives have changed and how the techniques can be used in everyday life. The wife of one of the participants will also speak about how her husband's progress has changed the dynamic of their relationship.

The programme isn't a cure, Mr Reilly said, but it has given him not just physical methods of getting his speech under control, but also a network of support.

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