I just saw “The King’s Speech” last night. It was every bit as good as everyone said it would be. Of course I had an added interest in the story since I am a speech therapist and wondered how stuttering would be depicted and what character would be portrayed as the therapist. I was pleased on all counts.
As far at the movie’s treatment of the subject of stuttering:
- Even though some of the “tricks” that Lionel proposed to increase the king’s fluency seemed silly, it is true that when a stutterer changes how he talks, he can experience a period of greater fluency. Obviously, it is not socially appropriate to “sing” your conversation with someone, but it can point out that it is possible to change. Learning such techniques such as slowing down and talking more fluidly, practicing an easy start to difficult sounds (like /p/ in the king’s case) can encourage fluency.
- Well meaning but ill-informed friends or acquaintances might offer similar advice as did those around the king–“Relax.” “Get it out boy!” Unfortunately these kinds of comments can increase the pressure that the stutterer feels and undermine his ability to talk more fluently. Instead a helpful friend or listener should listen attentively as if he has all the time in the world, letting the stutterer finish her sentence without trying to complete it for her.
- Lionel took the king into Westminster Abbey to practice his speech in the setting in which he would deliver it. He was helping desensitize the king so he could relax and use the techniques he had learned to be more fluent.
- Stuttering can be isolating for the person who is experiencing it. The king initially was frustrated and rejected the help offered him.
- Adults can increase their fluency through specialized techniques taught by a speech therapist, but therapy is most effective when stuttering is diagnosed in young children of preschool age and they receive therapy.
The movie’s depiction of Lionel, the speech therapist:
- As the movie progressed, I was enjoying the scope of Lionel’s character as it developed. He typified a well-rounded, competent therapist. Even though it was revealed that he had no formal training, (I wouldn’t recommend that!) he developed a close personal relationship that reflected a sincere interest in his client. I don’t believe a speech therapist can be effective without that.
- He got on the same level as his client. As a therapist working with a child, I need to get down on the floor and play games and with toys as a child does.
- He was his client’s biggest cheerleader. Didn’t you love his face as he stood right in front of the king when he gave his radio address to the country warning about the imminent war? He was anticipating every slip up and had an encouraging gesture to support the king. Good speech therapists are encouragers.
What a great way to educate the public on stuttering–create a movie based on a true story that is collecting Golden Globe awards and hopefully Oscars.