American Institute for Stuttering Immersion Therapy

What’s in a name? The change from “Intensive” to “Immersion”

When a company rebrands a product or service with a new name, it is often just a gimmick to attract new consumers with hopes of a new and improved version that really isn’t very new at all. With this in mind, I want to reflect on the dramatic shift in program offerings here at AIS, which goes well beyond just renaming and repackaging.

History of the AIS intensive program

Starting in 1998, Catherine Montgomery offered 3-week long intensive programs throughout the year for people who stutter (PWS). While her training was in pure fluency shaping, Catherine believed it was necessary to offer clients options with regards to speech strategies as well as offer communication counseling. For this reason, she utilized an integrated treatment approach, the rationale for which being that by offering a “smorgasbord,” clients could experience a variety of techniques and choose those that work best for them. Understanding the need for holistic treatment, there was a strong focus on emotional and cognitive factors in addition to physical aspects of stuttering. By the end of the three weeks, the large majority of clients were able to successfully utilize specific speech skills to speak more fluently, and in addition, expressed personal satisfaction related to feeling less alone as a PWS and to becoming more confident as a speaker.

With the passing of time however, a large number of clients reported frustration at being unable to maintain their level of fluency. Many clients told us that they felt speaking fears returning and in turn, tense, avoidant stuttering behaviors creeping back into their lives. Many would return to treatment (specifically enrolling in one-week “refresher” programs) in order to brush up on their skills, and specifically in response to their diminishing fluency. We also noted that as fluency skills declined over time, many people expressed feelings of intense guilt, shame, and hopelessness- after all, if success is fluency, then losing that fluency becomes a great source of feelings of failure. Increased avoidance of specific words, people, and situations in general frequently accompanied these negative feelings.  

Evolution of AIS programming

Over the last decade, the intensive programming at AIS has shifted dramatically, not only in response to our personal observations and data collection, but also related to greater evidence-based practices in both the speech-pathology and psychology literature. The fact that literally hundreds of clients have completed AIS programs to date has allowed us to determine what factors best lead to enduring, positive changes.

Rather than taking a dogmatic approach to treatment, we adopt a model that allows for differences in individual’s background experiences, personal values, and learning styles, while adhering to what we believe are the most important principles in successful stuttering treatment- becoming less fearful of speaking situations and of stuttering in front of others, maximizing one’s functional communication skills, and being able to speak openly and confidently whether stuttering or not.

Where are we now?

How would you best come to master (become “fluent” in) a foreign language? You would learn the grammar and the vocabulary but the real learning would come from true cultural immersion followed by consistent use and practice. At AIS, we apply the concept of immersion to help you become “fluent” in stuttering!

During the immersion week, we work intensively on reducing individual patterns of avoidance behaviors, the physical struggle related to stuttering, as well as negatively impacting beliefs and emotions. Using a fear reduction hierarchy, clients experience success applying healthy communicative intentions and easier patterns of stuttering as they face their own individual challenges. The new immersion program is particularly well-suited for current and past clients (including those who have taken past intensives) who wish to focus intently on reducing negative thoughts, emotions and avoidance behaviors and are looking to turbo-charge their outside exposure work. The program structure allows for focused work on improving overall communication expertise including interviewing and public speaking skills, as well as the opportunity to establish a long-term plan for continued growth. Three post-treatment sessions are included as part of the immersion program as we feel this is an essential part of the treatment process. Both individual and group sessions are available and they may be completed over the phone or internet.

We are excited to offer this programming change. At AIS, we constantly evaluate how best to help PWS come to Speak Freely, and Live Fearlessly, and we welcome your comments and observations. Please visit our event calendar for dates of upcoming immersion weeks. Contact us to learn more.

The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.


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