“I’m so grateful now that I have a stammer”

WHEN Jennifer Vaughan raised a glass to toast her marriage to new husband Ashley she had a lot to celebrate.

Before she went on an intensive speech therapy course she’d hit rock bottom after suffering years of anger and frustration at not even being able to say her own name.

And now here she was, eloquently reading aloud her own personally written vows as well as making an emotional speech at the reception – and she’d enjoyed it.

Five years after enrolling on The McGuire Programme she’s going back as its newest instructor, ready to inspire and change the lives of others in Manchester for four days from April 13.

“I would feel so small, so embarrassed and ashamed. I was an adult and yet I couldn’t even say my own name. It was humiliating.”

The thought of making her voice heard used to turn her stomach but now she considers it a thrill. She loves chatting to strangers so she can put into practice everything she has learned and get even better at the ‘sport of speaking’.

Jennifer, thinks her stammer started when she was five and her father left home but she doesn’t remember being affected by it until she reached secondary school, that was when she realised she was ‘different’ and retreated into her own introverted world.

“There was a pinnacle moment when the teacher went round the class asking people in turn to read aloud and of course when it came to me I got stuck,” she recalled. “There were a few sniggers, and some mickey takes as well as negative comments, although one person also came up to me afterwards and told me I was incredibly brave.

“I always had a good group of friends at school but as it neared the end I realised I was going to college where I would have to meet new people and introduce myself, but my stubborn head said “do what you want to do”.”

Jennifer Vaughan made an emotional speech at her wedding to Ashley at Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington.

Jennifer Vaughan made an emotional speech at her wedding to Ashley at Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington.

“One night I went out with friends and in the taxi home I couldn’t say my address. When I finally got home I cried and picked up a pair of scissors and thought about slitting my wrists. That was my lowest point.”

As Jennifer refused to put her hand up in class she used to stay behind with understanding teachers who were willing to give up their time for their bright pupil but inhibited pupil who went on to graduate with a degree in Psychology and then achieve an MSc in Occupational Therapy, both from Teesside University.

Student life can be daunting but for Jennifer it was terrifying. “It was hard meeting new people, every day I would feel sick to my stomach in case I was asked to say something and every day I would block and struggle through.

“I would feel so small, so embarrassed and ashamed. I was an adult and yet I couldn’t even say my own name. It was humiliating.”

Jennifer Vaughan wrote her own wedding vows so she could say exactly what she wanted to husband Ashley on their special day.

Jennifer Vaughan wrote her own wedding vows so she could say exactly what she wanted to husband Ashley on their special day.

“Inside I used to get so angry, I think I was quite an angry person. I was frustrated that I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be. I didn’t think I could get married or have children and I didn’t know how I was going to get a job. I thought “who’s going to hire me over all these other people on my course?”. I felt completely trapped.

 

What is The McGuire Programme?

  • It was started in 1994 by Dave McGuire, an American who’d had a lifelong struggle with a debilitating stammer. It combines a breathing technique used by many opera singers with a traditional psychological approach known as ‘non-avoidance’.
  • Courses lasting three or four days are now held in cities all over the world.
  • Famous members of The McGuire Programme include Wet Wet Wet guitarist, Graeme Duffin, singer Gareth Gates and former Scotland rugby captain, Kelly Brown.
  • It is not a quick-fix cure, instead it aims to develop strong, confident speakers.
  • Every coach and instructor has a stammer and has been through The McGuire Programme themselves.
  • Life-long after care includes courses, improvement days, support groups and an international phone/Skype list of members.

“One night I went out with friends and in the taxi home I couldn’t say my address. When I finally got home I cried and picked up a pair of scissors and thought about slitting my wrists. That was my lowest point.”

Jennifer had tried other speech therapies along with hypnotherapy but when her mum found out about the McGuire Programme she encouraged her to sign up for its forthcoming course in Dundee.

“By the end of the first day I was able to stand up and say my name, something I’d never been able to do before and it felt amazing,” Jennifer beamed, her eyes welling up with tears at the memory.

“My family said afterwards that I looked so much happier and more confident and when I sent a message out to my friends they were all really proud of me as it was something I’d never been able to speak about with them before.”

As well as attending more courses to develop the breathing method, assertive skills and self acceptance, Jennifer has a phone list of experienced ‘graduates’ worldwide who have also been through the McGuire Programme are on hand for practice or advice at any time. She also  regularly runs its twice-monthy support group in Middlesbrough.

“Going on the McGuire Programme has completely changed my life in so many ways. The sound of the telephone used to make my stomach churn but it doesn’t any more. Now I’ve no fear saying my name and I can order drinks at the bar or food on a menu in a restaurant that I want to eat rather than what I can say.

“I didn’t think I would have a relationship, I thought “who would love someone with a stammer?” And I if I couldn’t even say my name, how could I say my wedding vows?

“But at my wedding a year ago I wrote my own vows, I made a speech and I was thrilled to be asked to do a reading at my sister’s wedding which reduced my family to tears,” added Jennifer, an NHS Occupational Therapist, who lives in Middlesbrough.

“Going on the McGuire Programme has completely changed my life in so many ways. The sound of the telephone used to make my stomach churn but it doesn’t any more.

“Now I’ve no fear saying my name and I can order drinks at the bar or food on a menu in a restaurant that I want to eat rather than what I can say.”

“It feels surreal that about five years after my first course I am going to be teaching it to others. When you’ve been on a course and had an instructor who is inspirational it stays with you. I always wanted to instruct but I thought it would be when I was old and grey and really wise.”

Jennifer urged anyone who felt trapped by their stammer to get in touch and hear more about the lifelong support offered by the McGuire Programme.

She added: “It not only gives you control of your stammer but you get to meet people who understand exactly what you are feeling who push you to reach your full potential and you get to do things that you never would have dreamed possible before.

“I am so grateful now that I have a stammer, otherwise I would not have met such fantastic people and my life would have been a lot less interesting. Now I’m the person I always wanted to be”.

CONTACT:

The McGuire Programme

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