Sunday, March 09, 2014

Guest Blogger Richard Harkness: Stuttering's Primary Paradox and How it Tricks Us

Here is a guest post by Richard Harkness. If you want to be a guest blogger, please contact me.

Stuttering's Primary Paradox and How it Tricks Us (Richard Harkness) 

Some readers might remember me from workshops I've presented on the brain basis of stuttering and neuropatterning at National Stuttering Association (NSA) conventions in San Diego, Denver, Buffalo, and Atlanta. My most recent project was completing the new neuropatterning Home Course [].

What I call the primary paradox, more than any other aspect of stuttering, accounts for the tremendous confusion that has always surrounded this perplexing disorder. It's easy to fall into this pothole.

The paradox is this: If PWS (Persons Who Stutter) can be fluent in some situations, why can't they be fluent in all situations? That is, why can most PWS speak fluently when speaking alone or to a pet--but stutter when aware of a human listener? And why can most PWS speak fluently when chorus reading (reading aloud in unison with someone else)? What could explain this except some kind of emotional or psychological issue? (This seeming paradox can be explained neurologically-by the excitation feedback component of stuttering-as discussed in The Two Components of Stuttering [].

The primary paradox has tricked PWS and speech-language pathologists (many of whom are PWS themselves) down through the ages. The stuttering literature is packed with inaccurate theories and ideas due to misunderstandings based on this key element of stuttering. Even today, many SLPs, psychologists, and psychiatrists continue to leapfrog their reasoning ability when confronted with this apparent paradox.

Even a professor emeritus of psychiatry and pediatrics at a major university is not above falling prey to the primary paradox. He once asked: If stuttering is a physical problem, why do people hardly stutter at all in non-threatening situations, such as talking to their dog, yet stutter badly in tense situations, such as when making a speech?

Non-stutterers (and PWS themselves) who blindly believe such authorities may think that PWS should be able to overcome stuttering by "relaxing" or "slowing down" or rooting out its origin in some childhood trauma or aberrant relationship with a parent or sibling.

When I first began chatting with other PWS at National Stuttering Association conventions, I was struck by the reluctance of so many of them to recognize or acknowledge the inborn neurologic basis of stuttering. Most PWS seemed to be stuck on the idea that stuttering is an environmentally acquired emotional or psychological disorder. They appeared to believe that, since they could be fluent some of the time (the primary paradox), this proved the cause is psychological. And most of the information they had been exposed to said so, too. And many seemed to think that if it's psychological, the solution lay hidden but close at hand, and all they needed to do was find the proper key to peel back the layers of their psyches and the answer would pop out for them to grasp. I felt bad for them, because they were chasing a ghost. They were chasing with faithful certainty something that did not exist. I wanted to shake them and say “Listen to me! I know something that can really help you.”

That frustration was the genesis of the neuropatterning Home Course.

This attitude by PWS made me take a step back and ask why? Something that seemed so obvious to me--that stuttering was caused by a neurologic flaw--was not at all obvious to so many others. Then I realized that in my younger days, I had fallen for the myths of stuttering as an emotional/psychological disorder, too-the idea that it resulted from some murky unresolved emotional issue. One book I read even convinced me to blame my mother.

But then I began to learn about the brain. I learned that other disorders that were once thought “emotional” or “psychological” in origin were being unmasked for what they truly are: biologic disorders based on a physical flaw/dysfunction in the brain. Such disorders include epilepsy, dyslexia, clinical depression, panic disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and the like. Why is stuttering the last bastion to fall?

Don't get the wrong impression-many PWS and researchers do recognize the neurologic/biologic basis of stuttering and go quietly about their business. It's just that they tend to be drowned out by the more vociferous defenders of the psychological turf. It may be a case in which the “wronger” you are, the louder you are.

There were two basic reasons that I was fooled. They may be the same reasons so many other PWS are fooled, too.

One of those reasons is that almost everything I read said that stuttering was an emotional/psychological disorder. That was all I was exposed to. Who was I to question the “experts?”

The other reason is the damned perplexing nature of stuttering, especially the primary paradox.

Predictably, many psychologists and other “experts” let their imaginations run wild. They made simplistic associations based on shaky premises and lack of accurate information. They came up with impossibly complex, convoluted psychological theories or paradigms to explain stuttering. Another myth was launched: stuttering was an emotional or psychological disorder. It found its way into textbooks and popular magazines and took on a life of its own. It seemed to make sense in a vague way, and there was no other explanation to fill the void. So the myth became firmly planted in a lot of minds. And it's hard to pull away from cherished beliefs-especially for experts, who may have devoted a career (funding, publication in professional journals, etc.) to a certain belief system. The same thing happens in other fields, too. Beware the “expert syndrome.”


Anonymous said...

Has anyone bought/used this course?....Any feedback/reviews anyone?

Anonymous said...

Tom, what are your thoughts on this?...Really appreciate your thoughts/comments/observations on neuropatterning and the home course. Thanks Tom

Anonymous said...

Either this guy richard is very intelligent or he doesnt care. He just wants to make money.

The website, testimonials and the $99 pricing. Everything looks shady though i want to believe him.

There is no photo of him or his clients. No solid feedback.

Honestly we need to be a little more convinced. Can he give a guarantee since it involves repairing or reprogramming the brain.

If so then i would buy his course and try his methods.

Else he is just a fish in the sea trying to sell his program.

If i had something concrete like a possible cure i would give it for free and then ask for donations if it benefited them in any way.

That is the perfect and the happiest way

Olivier said...

I'm a little bit sad, Tom, that you waste posts for this kind of things. I am still a fan of your blog, and I perfecly know how boring blogging can be, but I don't understand why you are posting "that" instead of talking about the first results, for example, of Dr Chang on the children's brains.
Please, Tom ! Don't forget your blog is THE blog on research.
OLB, Un Olivier sur un Iceberg

Tom Weidig said...

Hi Olivier,

I understand your concerns. I just don't have the time to read a lot and make sound comments...

hopefully, i can find my time and space soon.

best wishes,

Tom Weidig said...

Here is Richard Harkness' reply as he was unable to post a comment:

As a follow-up to reader comments on my recent post about stuttering's primary paradox and my website, here is some background.

The original neuropatterning Home Course website was hosted by AOL in the 1990s. With apparently little or no advance notice, AOL abruptly canceled their hosting of all personal websites. One day your site was up and running, the next day it had disappeared. At that time I was under contract to write a series of nonfiction books, and the Home Course went into limbo.

Recently, I was able to make the Home Course available once again. The original Home Course was $99, but I decided to make the new Home Course more universally affordable at only $39. However, the feedback I was getting indicated a mistaken perception: If the course was indeed so valuable, why is the cost so low? It seems to be human nature to equate value with cost. So I decided to go back to the original cost ($99), and, sure enough, the course began generating more interest. I think you'll agree that the higher cost is still a great bargain considering the priceless value of acquiring fluent speech.

By the way, no legitimate method can "guarantee" a cure for stuttering. The recent post about the course offered for $8,000 to cure stuttering in 3 days indicates an obvious scam. The other recent post relating a cure for stuttering to the "many worlds" hypothesis in physics, likewise.

You might wish to take a look at my website topic "Results you can expect from the Home Course" [].

The reader testimonials on the website are from readers of the original Home Course from the 1990s.

It was an unfortunate coincidence that my post followed so closely those two posts containing the nonsensical content. But please judge my course by its own merits. Neuropatterning is based on sound principles of what we know about learning, the brain, and stuttering.

Whether you're interested in the Home Course or not, the website provides a wealth of reliable information on stuttering as well as my reasoned arguments against much of the traditional thinking about this disorder.

That said, those following this thread on Tom's blog who are interested in taking the Home Course may order it for $39. Just email me at and I will provide you with the URL, which will remain valid for 7 days.

Best regards, Richard
Friday, 14 March 2014 19:09:00 CET

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

Thats nice of you to clear up things. Lets do this which would help you and everyone here.

Since you are so confident let Tom buy the book or you can give it away for free. Let Tom then post its results. If the results are positive and stuttering is greatly reduced. I know there is no cure but you are confident of a great reduction in stuttering as i feel from your website.

So lets do this and then ill buy you course or $39, $99, $499 or any price you wish. You will agree that people will be ready to pay you whatever amount you seek if you promise them fluent speech.

That is why I said why not give it for free and then ask for donations if it helps. We are not cheaters and we will never be. In fact im sure most of us here will generously donate you a lot of money.

If Tom isnt interested you can give it to anyone else on this forum who is a trusted poster.

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know, I bought the course last week (for $99) before the reduced price offer ($39) came out.
I e-mailed Richard and he sent me the $60 back straightaway, no questions asked. He's a genuine chap and not "in it for the money". I will post my results as they happen. Cheers

Bruce said...


Why do you post this as a guest blog? It seems more like an advertisement.

Who is this guy? What are his credentials? His website doesn't say.
His "About me" page on his website doesn't even give his name. "I’m a medical writer/researcher"

He's "published eight book" and some articles - but what are they? Are they relevant? What does he know about the large body of research into stuttering and speech therapy? No way to know.

"Perhaps my best qualification is that I’m not a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or a psychologist." What?? His main qualification is that he's an outsider?

Why do you lend your blog to advertisers of home-grown "cures"?

What's next, Anna Deeter as a guest blogger?

Anonymous said...

To the previous poster:

Richard is a PWS himself, so he's not an "Outsider"

Read his rationale/thoughts on stuttering and they make sense.

Should we ignore everyone who has not delivered the "magic bullet" or the 'cure" that would be everyone to date, as we are all still stuttering aren't we?

I've corresponded with Richard via e-mail in the last week and found him to be an educated chap who understands stuttering and is not "in it for the money" others!

I've been doing the Neuropatterning course for the last couple of days and feel better about my speech already (placebo, I hear you say)...I will report my results as we go along, but the "science" makes sense..better than pumping the body with olanzapine or any other method I've tried in the past.

More to follow, but give the guy a chance.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen an increase in fluency since you've started the program? I have just bought it myself and i'm waiting for him to send it to me

Anonymous said...

I have been on the course for 1.5 weeks and the results have been great.

I have completed the full course in about 10 days and am now in the Maintenance stage, where the fluency will develop further.

I am for the most part 100% fluent in ALL situations. I went across the US/CDN border (usually a major stressor) and I was fluent and was even joking with the border guards.

MY voice and tone feel better, my rate o speech has slowed a little and my articulation has improved.

Any "Blocks" (rare that I have any struggles though) seem to slide out and I don't 'fear" anymore.

This will only get better and I'd like to thank Richard for his e-mails and support.

For the record: I am not being paid or asked to make comments!!

Its nice not to be drugged with Olanzapine or other drugs to attain a level of fluency and feel groggy and zombie like.

Its also nice not to have to use a "technique" in normal speech such as costal breathing or sound like a robot.

Give it a go. What have you got to lose, if you are like me, you've probably tried ALL "cures" and methods (Except Anna Deeter's of course!!) and who knows, it might just be your answer.

Thanks Stephen

Anonymous said...

2.5 weeks into the course.

Completed the course and in the maintain phase and it just keeps getting better.

Words that I once struggled on are flowing great.

I'm initiating conversations I used to avoid.

No "technique" needed while speaking, its great.

So far, so good and expecting it to get better still as it is further engrained.

Cheers Stephen

Tom - Try this and give us your opinion, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Anonymous said...

The above comments are encouraging, been doing the course for a week now, noticed some slight improvement but still stuttering in some situations. I hope it will continue to get better.

Regarding the course, I think what it does is try to teach you the techniques were probably all aware of, but in a subconscious way which is great.

With most other techniques if you consciously have to think about what your doing, stuttering (for me at least) becomes inevitable. Sort of like when your speaking fluently, realise your doing so, then start stuttering.

Anyway, I'll post back when I've given it a bit more time.

Anonymous said...

what are peoples views on the course so far? im seeing an improvement definitley

Anonymous said...

The initial improvement I noticed (2 posts above - April 3rd) has gone now, and I'm stuttering the same amount as before. I'm going to continue with the course for a while, but I think finding an initial improvement which then fades is pretty common with most methods.

Anonymous said...

i could never say my vowels without flaring my nostrils or without havning tension in my throat before i started the course, and as i did the course my stutter got worse, but i kept doing the exercises and i woke up one day and i could say the word 'aim' (the word i get stuck on most) without stuttering or contorting my face and its been fine since, might not sound like much but ive tried numerous methods and this is the only one that has reduced my stuttering on vowels

Anonymous said...

thats funny because i have over 40 emails from him answering my questions in the last 3 weeks

Stephen said...


Have you tried Richard's course or not?.. You said you've been "following" it for 15 years, is that watching or actually doing it?

So far, my experience with the course has been very positive. I've found Richard to be very helpful and has replied to my questions quickly.

I've never done Anna Deeter's course, but are you going to do it?...Pay the $8k and let us know how you get on. If you are cured tell me and I'll sign up straightaway.

I bought Richard's course for $39. He's not in it for the money, like many others are. The time he's spent on his e-mails outweighs the money I've paid him.

Are you a Martin Schwartz airflow technique person as you mention it on your blog. Did that cure you?

What is your speaking situation right now?...Did you find a cure?, what would you suggest?...

Rather than bash someone (the anonymous person earlier who has some improvements), why don't you be more positive and add something constructive.

From someone (me), who has tried Maguire, Andrew Bell, hypnotherapy, Olanzapine and everything else, this appears to be giving me control again.

I will keep people posted on my progress, but don't knock something you've not tried.

Thanks Stephen

Anonymous said...

that was a different person, and because i don't want to share my name what has that got to do with you

Anonymous said...

think you should try the course mate, my fluency is increasing by the day and i can definitley feel a change from when i started3 weeks ago :)

Stephen said...

Hi Mark,

I total agree with your frustration with the stuttering community.

It's something that affects millions of us, and we still don't seem to get the attention (or the right attention)or the research funding that it deserves.

It annoys me that people with a stutter are treated as "stupid", but we don't speak out (for obvious reasons) to contradict this.

Most people advise us to "accept our stutter" and to "slow down" etc. So frustrating.

Like I said earlier, I've tried just about everything and had "success" but it was largely confined to the clinic or short lived when the technique gets pressured and then the sh*t hits the fan.

This is different as you are not applying a technique at the time you are speaking. I like to think of it as a boxer training for a fight and with all of the training you do kicks in when it's time.

Just so you know, I'm 46 as well and this course is giving me the fluency I was hoping for.

Cheers Stephen

Anonymous said...

Mark have you looked at michael williams course on youtube? £70 and i think i might give it a go, he teaches you to speak clear and fluent rather than focus stuttering techniques and the stutter itself,worth a look anyway:)

Gottlieb said...

Stutter brains are more symmetrical and have bigger corpus calosum than non-stutter brains.
I think sttutering related to respiration style, I breathe through the mouth.

JR said...

Hi all. I purchased the neuropatterning course after seeing it on here some two months ago. I'm 25 and have stuttered all my life, mostly with silent blocks.

I have to say that Mr Harkness has always been timely and responsive to my questions over email, and we've had several interesting discussions. My results, however, have been mixed.

I'm on lesson 18 now, and instead of "mirror reading", I've been reading and recording myself on webcam. I don't feel this poses a problem, however.

My stuttering has not really improved so far, but I put this partly down to not practicing it on a daily basis, which I think is crucial, since, after all, it's about programming new speech habits. I have noticed more days when I'm unusually fluent, but can't specifically pin this down.

The course could be made a bit more clearer in my opinion, with more video and audio examples, but as it stands, it seems like a genuine attempt to help. And after doing some of the sessions, which go on for pages and pages, it "feels" good that I've worked out my speech mechanism.

I'm going to keep going with it and will hopefully remember to drop in with updates, but hearing from other people is very interesting. If you've tried neuropatterning please leave a message! There's a yahoo group for it, but I haven't found many specific discussions of it online. Cheers.

Kaz said...

I'm going to continue with the course for a while, but I think finding an initial improvement which then fades is pretty common with most methods.

I'd like to highlight this point? My experience has been that you can induce short-term fluency with, quite frankly, any old crock, it's the long term that's the killer. I don't have a horse in this race as I've given up on speech therapy and am not interested in this course, but the speech therapy I did (KST - Kasseler Stottertherapie - Tom did a series of posts about it some years ago) was very clear on this and really tried to drive home that induced fluency just after the course due to overwhelming focus on our speech was not the same thing as successful speech therapy. If I remember correctly, they also used their long-term efficacy results in their advertising.

Quite frankly, when it comes to courses like this I consider individual anecdotes about short-term results pretty much meaningless and using such things as advertising dubious if not downright unethical.

Brendan said...

The range of responses to this post is interesting. On the one hand, the material presented in the course makes more sense to me than any other I've ever seen. On the other, it's been around for quite some time and hasn't gained a lot of traction. How is this so?

To say that stuttering sucks would be an understatement. I'm starting to accept the fact that if I want to improve, I may need to work hard every day for a long time. This program seems to be more worth my time than other work I could be doing.

Mark, you say that you've tried it for 15 years to no avail. How much time did you actually put into the program? Did you ever practice for 1 hour or more a day for weeks or months at a time?

Anonymous said...

Hello, so any update on this course ? I want to buy the course but it's 99$ now and not 39$...

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth, I bought the draft course that he developed in the 1990's. I find the exercises to be helpful, and it is a lot like reading outloud. For folks who don't want to buy the course, I recommend you read out loud for 10-15 minutes a day.

Anonymous said...

I started this program with my 6-year-old son two weeks ago. (I had to modify the program a bit, since my son is so young and his first language isn't English.) My son's fluency has already increased dramatically. He's had nearly two years of speech therapy and it hasn't helped much. But this seems to be working. If my son keeps improving like this, he'll be stutter-free by Christmas.

Nick McClure said...

I realize I'm reviving an old thread here, but I've been curious about this program since finding it about a year ago. Has anyone maintained the program daily for long enough to address long term success?

Unknown said...

I bought Richard Harkness' course in about 1996 and followed it exactly as described in the manual. I was a long-time stutterer who would experience severe blocks, not repetitious stuttering.

The course from Richard Harkness is not easy but it worked wonders for me! My stuttering blocks were suddenly gone! I could ask for help with a product in the grocery store without anxiety and fear!

I encourage anyone with a stuttering problem to buy the course and use it!