Therapeutic Speech

By: Molly Fawcett

Therapeutic speech is one of the classic anthroposophic artistic therapies. Grown out of the initial ideas of Rudolf Steiner it has been developed further by therapists, mainly in Europe. It is capable of addressing a wide range of disorders.

Speech conveys far more than just imparting information. In speech the whole human being comes to expression. Just as with writing or painting, our soul leaves its imprint on our activity. When we listen to someone speak we can tell not only who they are and where they come from, but also what their feelings are and how they are feeling physically. The speaker reveals his or her own soul, feelings and the state of their bodily condition, whether tired or energetic. Even posture and state of alertness affect what is heard. It was Steiner's insight that speech could do more than simply reveal these aspects of the human being. When consciously formed, speech can work back upon the speaker, harmonizing and correcting imbalances underlying illness.

In artistic speech, breath, rhythm and the qualities of sound are tools used to express the content of a poem, story or drama. In therapeutic speech these same elements become the means to diagnose and treat the patient. The therapist will look at five main areas: breath, voice, articulation, fluency and posture. The first element is the breath. Is it shallow or deep? Is there a healthy relation between the in- and out breath? In considering the voice, we look at whether it tends towards hoarseness. Is it pitched too high or too low for the individual? Is it too far back in the throat, is it pinched, or too open? Then, of course, articulation of the speech sounds plays into the equation. Is speech mumbled? Too clipped? Are there particular sounds that the person has difficulty producing clearly? How are the p's and k's, for example? Are they well-articulated or does the person glide over them? In the area of fluency we look at the flow of speech. Does speech flow easily or is it too rushed or choppy, or are there too many pauses and ‘um’s? Finally, posture is taken into consideration. Is it upright or slouched? Are there a variety of gestures and are they relaxed or tense? What about the gait, is it energetic or hesitant? All of the above aspects are looked at by the therapist in making a diagnosis.

Referring back to the medical diagnosis made by the doctor, the therapist then chooses appropriate exercises and methods for the individual. In addition to the specific exercises, poetry, drama and story telling will also play a major part in the therapy. A typical session lasts 30 minutes and includes work with the specific exercises. A poem or drama dialog usually follows. Many people who are new to this type of therapy find they have more energy, strength and courage after the session and feel 'more like themselves'. An added benefit of therapy is the discovery of, or the re­awakening to, the joy of speaking a poem out loud.

Conditions That Can Be Addressed By Therapeutic Speech:

  • Ear, nose and throat diseases, e.g. sinusitis.

  • Diseases that go along with breathing disorders such as asthma, hyperventilation, fears and panic disorders.

  • Heart and circulatory disorders.

  • Functional disorders such as colitis, migraine, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

  • Psychological and physical diseases weakening the self of the person concerned, such as rheumatic diseases, depression, shyness, abuse and addictions.

  • Disorders of the thyroid gland.

  • Iron deficiency which cannot be balanced sufficiently by medical treatment.

  • As an accompanying therapy for cancer and AIDS patients to help them help themselves feel more energetic and creative.

  • Language and speech problems including lisping, hoarseness, stuttering, aphasia, developmental delays and Autism.

  • Learning problems, fear of school and behavioral difficulties.

Molly Fawcett is a speech pathologist and has a diploma in anthroposophical speech therapy from Dornach, Switzerland. She is currently in private practice in Chicago, IL and can be reached at: 773­-334-8015. For more information call The Speech Association, at 734-282-3226