Interview With Dr. Scott Palasik of University of Akron
Scott is an Associate Professor at the University of Akron. He teaches graduate courses in Stuttering, Counseling, and Voice Disorders along with supervising graduate students, He also teaches at the undergraduate level with courses in Anatomy and Physiology, Introduction to Communication Disorders, and Articulation and Phonological Disorders. He is the director of the MASS Lab (Mindfulness ACT Social cognition Stuttering) and performs research on mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy, and social cognitive therapy with people who stutter. He co-hosts the ActToLive Podcast and is a co-founder of 3C Digital Media Network.
Note: You should consult with your doctor or speech pathologist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Palasik and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeechPathologyMastersPrograms.com
What have traditionally been some of the gaps in care for those who stutter?
These are just my opinions, of course, but maybe the first gap in treating those who stutter is with what we know, and how we treat, adolescents. There seems to be some nice research with children (school age and preschool) and adults but very little with adolescents. This is such an important age. The adolescent brain is different as compared to a child’s brain or even an adult brain. I would love to see more done with this population.
Another gap in stuttering treatment might be the extent of which new graduate students are getting a high quality and thorough stuttering education. There are many universities that might not have a full course in fluency disorders, which is doing a disservice to clients, families, and the clinicians who need to be competent in helping those in need. Stuttering is different than most of speech language pathology, so having quality teachers who have the ability to teach the entire discipline is vital to the welfare of helping those who stutter and their families.
How did you become inspired to develop your own approach to stuttering treatment- the Mindfulness Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Somatic Stuttering Treatment (MASS Treatment)?
Inspiration to create anything comes from standing on the shoulders of giants, those who came before us. For me, I credit the great psychology researchers, Communication Science and Disorders researchers, clients I have had the honor to work with and their families, along with the many students whom I have had the pleasure to teach and learn from. I also credit the people in my past who had a different perspective about the way I talk. As a person who stutters, I have had many experiences where others’ perceptions about the way I speak (specifically the way I stutter) did not line up with my perceptions. For a long time I believed they were thinking short sided, or they were mean, or even thought they might be right. However, I realized that they were not always wrong. From where they stood their attitudes and beliefs that I could not perform a certain job (e.g, be a speech language pathologist or be a professor) appeared accurate. However, over time I have learned that the concept of “ignorance” is not a negative one, it just means you don’t know what you don’t know. For many of these people, they thought they knew everything about me by the way I spoke, but the reality was they did not. So I thank them for inspiring me to stay true to myself and my values.
Speaking of values, I have been inspired by my family and friends. My parents taught me to work hard and be the best version of myself in an honest and kind manner. So developing this approach for people who stutter is holistic and honest.
What does the MASS treatment consider that other stuttering treatments do not? Why are these considerations important?
What MASS Treatment considers that a lot of other treatments may not (I say may not, as there might be treatment out there that I have not read about fully or even know about yet), is that we look at the whole person. Their mind, speech, thoughts as actions, and their body as actions. Communication is a whole body experience and not just about being fluent or not fluent. There are many aspects to being an EFFECTIVE communicator, which involve different parts of the body and movements to get a message across to a listener. The fact is, communication is less about verbal production and more about nonverbal communication. So, with the MASS treatment approach we look at all aspects of communication and how a person approaches the idea of communication and being a strong, confident, effective, and caring communicator in whatever medium they choose to communicate.
The basis to MASS is Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, pronounced as one word, to imply movement and behaviors). We believe that by being willing to address challenging thoughts about stuttering in the present moment and focusing on our core values, and with as little judgments about these thoughts, we can cultivate an external observation perspective that can lead to committed actions (thoughts and physical behaviors) that can create psychological flexibility about life and speaking for people who stutter. We try to tie in the entire person in order to improve a person’s whole life, not just focusing on speaking.
Right now, you are doing a lot of research on perceptions of people who do and don’t stutter as well as perceptions of race, sexual orientation, and other factors? Is there an importance to comparing perceptions of people who stutter to these other factors? What have you learned so far?
It is important to do research and look at all kinds of subgroups with people who stutter and compare them to other groups of individuals. Not to compare so see who is better or worse, but to see where there are similarities and where differences might be. This examination of similarities is not to imply “good” and “bad”, but to show that we are all different, and the similar. And BOTH can be celebrated with kindness and excitement. As a person who stutters, sometimes I can talk different than the so-called “norm.” And, sometimes I can speak very similar. Some of my attitudes are very similar to most other people when it comes to the process of shame, guilt, blame, fear, anxiety, and anger. The difference is the trigger for me might be stuttering some days, but it might be something else that I might share with a person who does not stutter (like frustration if I get in a car accident, or the sadness of losing a pet).
What I have learned so far is that many people who stutter desire to accept themselves, just like any other person does. They desire to express themselves freely and to enjoy communicating, just like anyone else. Further, when someone believes in who they are, and begins to live by the values they hold dear and would not trade for anything in the world (e.g., being honest, being caring, learning, etc), then life does not always feel so daunting, and joy begins to emerge mentally and physically. When we care for our mind, and body, we find happiness and the skill to handle adversity.
Speaking of adversity, I have found that the more we do mindfulness practices, and work through the acceptance process (and it is a process), the more resilient a person can be. Many clients of ours come to therapy for 1-2 years and then they leave to living their lives and dreams. Essentially being the person they hoped they would be, no longer as afraid to talk, but rather more prepared to advocate for themselves and be able to handle the challenges that might come with stuttering (whatever those are, as they can differ from person to person).
What is the advantage of collaborating with others from across the country on this research
The advantages to collaborating is you get a team approach to learning. There is so much value in brainstorming without ego, resentment, or agendas. The people I have had the privilege to work with have been conscientious folks with the sole purpose to serve others. With an open collaboration, you get a chance to hear things you have never thought about, and learn from anyone and everyone.
What aspect of your research are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that I was able to help put something out into the world of communication disorders that might not have been there before, and that I am able to continue to work with wonderful professionals, students, clients, and families. The research is important, but is it helping people enjoy communicating and continue to evolve that makes our job as Speech Language Pathologist worth it. For it is simple, without students who want to learn, and without clients and families who ask for help, we don’t have jobs. We owe everything to these individuals. Everything.
Do you have any advice for future speech-language pathologists (SLPs)?
The future SLPs have a lot of content to learn about with respect to Communication Disorders and it is only getting bigger. The first thing I would tell new SLPs is the simple fact, “You will not know everything about being a Speech Language Pathologist. The field is too darn big!” Some might take this as a sad point of view, but I see it as a great thing! Our field is so large, and wonderful, it allows everyone to focus a little bit on what they might really want to do. It also allows those who enjoy the nature of learning for a lifetime to do just that. I also hope that hearing that we cannot know everything might provide some relief to some who feel “I must know everything.” Instead of the pressure to know it all, perhaps future SLPs can say, “I will do the best I can for myself, the clients I get the honor to serve, and their families.” For we can only do the best that we can, and that is all.
The second thing that I believe future SLPs might think about is to “drop your ego.” We are all in this field to help ourselves. When someone comes into a service industry and is self-serving, the whole purpose of the job can get lost, and clients and family suffer. I’ve been in bands since I was 12 years old (still am), and my old band’s agent used to tell us, “You boys are no better than anyone else, and they are not better than you.” His point was we all have things we learn, and we can keep our egos in check in order to remain open to new ideas and philosophies. I think of our mind like a parachute, it only works when it opens.
If you treat people with an open mind and do therapy with an open and welcoming heart, you are bound to have a career full of smiles and warm experiences. Is there any more to life than that?
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