05:56am Sunday 25 August 2019

UEA researchers to pilot new treatment for people who stammer

People who stammer may experience high levels of social anxiety – a profound fear of interacting with or being evaluated by other people. The new treatment targets social anxiety in people who stammer.

Treatments like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can be used to treat social anxiety, but this type of face-to-face ‘talking therapy’ could be off-putting for people who stammer. Participants in the trial will instead take part in a four-week series of online computer-based sessions.

Around 720,000 people in the UK and 70 million world-wide experience stammering. Recent films such as The King’s Speech and Hyde Park on Hudson have helped raise awareness of the condition.

Dr Jan McAllister, from UEA’s School of Allied Health Professions, is leading the project. She said: “For many children who begin to stammer, the condition will resolve itself – either spontaneously or with therapy. But for some people, stammering persists into adulthood and can be the source of negative reactions, including bullying, from others.

“The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists advocates ‘talking therapies’ such as CBT for social anxiety in people who stammer.

“But sufferers may be reluctant to receive treatment that requires them to have lengthy spoken conversations with a therapist – because if their social anxiety is associated with their speech problem they will, by definition, dislike speaking.

“Our research will look at whether taking part in online computer-based tasks could help instead. This approach has been successful for people who have high levels of social anxiety who do not stammer. We hope that the treatment will have a very real and positive impact on the lives of people who stammer by providing an alternative or adjunct treatment for social anxiety.”

Researchers will measure social anxiety and speech fluency immediately before and after treatment, and after four months. Participants will be randomly allocated to the treatment condition or to a placebo control condition.

The 20-month study will take place in partnership with NHS Norfolk & Waveney and the British Stammering Association (BSA) – the largest UK organisation run by and for people who stammer.

The project will draw on a wide range of expertise, including speech and language therapy, cognitive and clinical psychology, medical statistics and health economics. The involvement of the BSA will ensure that the needs and views of people who stammer are taken into account.

BSA chief executive, Norbert Lieckfeldt, said “As a serious communication impairment, it is not surprising that stammering can often lead to social anxiety. Often, it’s the social impact of stammering that is more debilitating than the actual stammer itself. With more and more adult NHS speech therapy services being withdrawn, research like this that offers the prospect of effective and cost-effective interventions is crucial for people who stammer.”

The research team is looking for people who stammer, and live in the East Anglia region, to take part in the trial. To take part, or find out more, please contact Dr Jan McAllister by emailing J.Mcallister@uea.ac.uk.

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