Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Controversial honoring of Theo Schoenaker at the ISA-congress 2013

Robert van de Vorst wrote to TheStutteringBrain to make us aware of the controversial honoring of Theo Schoenaker who holds views that clash with science. Make up your own mind!

Controversial honoring of Theo Schoenaker at the ISA-congress 2013: Stuttering a neurosis?

By Robert van de Vorst

Recently, on the 10th of June in Lunteren, Theo Schoenaker has been honored for his pioneering work in the field of stuttering (see here). For those unknown with his work, Ton and Theo Schoenaker were the first to offer group-therapy for adult people who stutter in the sixties, under the name ‘Doetinchemse Methode’ (1966-2001). In 1974, Schoenaker emigrated to Germany where he became profoundly influenced by the Individual Psychology developed by Alfred Adler.

In short, based on a psycho-analytical approach, Schoenaker believes that (all) stuttering is a psycho-somatic disorder, a neurosis. He seems thereby to contradict evidence of stuttering as a neurobiological developmental disorder, including subtypes and genetic predispositions.

His main statements are that stuttering is ‘goal-oriented’, and an unconscious, but responsible ‘choice’ made by the person who stutters him-/herself. Not only may this view cause many people who stutter to feel (even more) guilty and ashamed of their stuttering, many of his statements seem to neglect and counteract scientific evidence, most notably :

“So verstehen wir, warum das stottern ein situativ auftretende storung ist. Sie tritt nicht immer auf, weil sie nicht immer gebraucht wird” (From: “Ja …, aber! - Ein individual-psychologisches Konzept des Stotterns”, p. 122-129. Schoenaker, 2000).

(Translation: … “So we understand why stuttering is a situationally occurring disturbance. It [the disturbance] doesn't always occur because it is not always needed.”)

Here he makes the logical fallacy that if stuttering were to be a consequence of a neurobiological abnormality, it must be there all the time and since it appears to be not always ‘present’, it must be psychologically. This is wrong, because:

1) This situational occurrence can actually be physically explained. Similar variability occurs for example in disorders like Tourette's disorder, dyslexia, clinical depression, panic disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and the like.

2) If stuttering were the (physical) expression of an unconscious psychological conflict, how does that explain then that many people with similar psychological issues don’t stutter?   3) There is plenty of evidence for the fact that fluency of PWS is not the same as fluency in people who don’t stutter. So it is logical that in more demanding and complex situations, the already relative ‘weak’ system ‘breaks’ much sooner.

Even more troublesome in my opinion is the fact that Schoenaker states that stuttering in adults can be overcome as long as you are willing and motivated, a vision adopted by the Dutch Federation of Stuttering:
“Anderen komen zover, dat ze hun stottersymptomen en begeleidende problemen nagenoeg volledig overwinnen. Of je tot deze groep behoort, ligt voor het grootste deel aan je eigen inzet.” (Source: http://www.stotteren.nl/volwassenen.html#lees-meer).

(Translated: …others come to the level that they overcome their stuttering and accompanying problems completely. If you belong to this group, depends mainly on your own motivation.

This statement seems to blame the adult who stutters for not achieving fluency. And again, the Dutch Federation of Stuttering (who also co-organized the 10th World Congress, so maybe some political interests here?) propagandizes this vision.

I encourage people to be at least careful with this theory and approach on stuttering, since there is no scientific evidence that supports their statements about stuttering. Many people may be impressed because of Schoenaker’s honoring at the ISA-congress this June and as a result they may get more known internationally. But I am a bit troubled by this event and there may be some political interest involved. Real science however is not about which honoring you receive, but rather about the strength of your arguments.

More info on Schoenaker can be found at http://www.schoenaker.de/ (in German)


sachin said...

Interesting post! Thank you!
It reminds me of the old debate between Buddhist and Vedantis: If the mind and body are sufficient to "explain"- why presuppose a spirit behind body-mind complex..?
Here, based on our "specialization", we tend to explain stammering and lock ourselves in a limited understanding..

Anonymous said...

The first translation should be slightly revised.

So verstehen wir, warum das stottern ein situativ auftretende storung ist. Sie tritt nicht immer auf, weil sie nicht immer gebraucht wird.

So we understand why stuttering is a situationally occurring disturbance. It [the disturbance] doesn't always occur because it is not always needed.

Robert van de Vorst said...


Thank you. Perhaps Tom could replace the translation (in the original post)?

Peter Louw said...

Sigmund Freud himself studied stuttering and concluded that psychoanalysis generally is not the correct treatment for the disorder. Unfortunately some of his followers disregarded his opinion. Also Schoenaker may be wrong if he believes that stuttering is always intermittent. I have met a few stutterers at self-help groups who seemed to, and confirmed to me, that they stuttered consistently on nearly every word, irrespective of the situation.

Adrie1945 said...

Schoenaker's form of therapy: “Individualpsychologische Gruppentherapie für erwachsene Stotterer ” was research 549 patients by a neutral “Deutsches Institut für internationale Pädagogische Forschung”.
The results have been published in: “Ja..., aber”:Ein Individualpsychologisches Konzept neurotischen Verhaltens dargestellt am Beispiel des Stotterns http://www.rdi-verlag.de/product_info.php/info/p8_Ja-----aber-.html
Kurz- und Langzeitergebnisse [pdf]

Dr. P. Helbert Damsté (otolaryngologist and phoniatrist) was until 1987 Professor of Phoniatrics and Speech Pathology at the University of Utrecht and Leuven (and a sponsor of 10th World congress for People Who Stutter: http://www.demosthenes.nl/wc2013/index.php/support/our-supporters), wrote in the German Journal "Lichtblick":
All the good that has come forth from [ ...Schoenaker ...] will need in Holland for many years before it will be processed and accepted. [ ... Alles Gute, das aus dem Rudolf-Dreikurs-Weg in Züntersbach hervorgekommen ist, wird in Holland noch viele Jahre brauchen, bevor es verarbeitet und angenommen sein wird... Page 12: https://sites.google.com/site/stotteren/lichtblick


Leithold said...

Speech therapists only served to delay in decades the advance in the understanding and treatment of stuttering. Stuttering urgently need no longer be a disorder monopolized by these retarded therapists.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that ISA awarded the price to him.

How can the ISA act as if they don't know anything about stuttering?

It is even hard to believe that this is an innocent mistake.

Tom Weidig said...

@Robert: done.

Ora said...

Instead of condemning the ISA, let's wonder what they might have had in mind. Why would they deliberately support a crackpot therapy approach?

These are not stupid people, they're not ignorant, and let's assume they're not ill-intentioned.

Other explanations seem more likely. I wonder what they are.

Robert van de Vorst said...

I think it is fair to mention that the Dutch Federation of Stuttering now has removed Schoenakers claims about stuttering from their website. This is positive and something I give them credit for.

About the honoring, this was organized by the Dutch organization Demosthenes (which also organized the congress), in cooperation with the NFS and NVST. From what I've heard, the honoring was mainly to give credit for Schoenakers activities early in his career which seemed to have a significant impact on people who stutter and thinking about stuttering in the Netherlands.

I suppose they didn't really take into consideration the views and opinions about stuttering Schoenaker developed over time while honoring him at the congress

John D said...

If ever, there was a mountain made out of a molehill, this blog-post is it. There was anything controversial in this event at all. The guy was honoured, and that was that. No one out of the 300 people in the audience had any problems with that. What's the fuss about?

Robert van de Vorst said...

@John D:

I don’t agree with you. People who don’t know about the background of this person and event may indeed have no problem with it.

As a PWS, I do have a problem when someone gets honoured
1) who claims my stuttering is entirely due to psychosocial conflicts when my own experience and scientific evidence clearly show otherwise,
2) whose false statements and interpretations of stuttering have been used as the objective standard by organizations in my country to inform about stuttering

Regarding the latter one, I’ve already said that I am happy to see that those claims now are removed from their website. So actually this post did contribute to improve public information about stuttering.