Stress and Stammering

David Seidler was pre-school age and living in London when the Nazis bombed his apartment and later killed his grandparents in the Holocaust.  Understandably, the family decided to relocate to New York.  David developed a stammer during the move that he believed was connected to the war-time traumas.  He struggled with his voice for over a decade.

Eventually he overcame the problem, partly due to inspiration from King George VI, a fellow stammerer who gave radio addresses to the British people throughout the war.  Fifty years later, Mr Seidller wrote the screenplay for the new film The King’s Speech.  It tells the story of King George and his self-taught speech therapist Lionel Logue who worked together for a quarter century beginning in 1926.

Of interest to readers of this blog is that George’s affliction was connected to a number of traumas in his early life.  Over the years, George came to trust Logue enough to describe this experience.  Logue responded by supporting George’s stunted self-esteem.  Interestingly, Logue learned his approach mostly from experience with patients, much as I did, and not from formal training.  The film’s depiction of the key importance of empathy and the complexity that can lead to temporary misjudgments also remind me of my own practice.

King George inspired his people, but unfortunately his early stress contributed to a heavy smoking habit.  Six years after the war he had surgery for lung cancer.  Four months later he died in his sleep at age 56.

Treatment of stress-related illness doesn’t usually lend itself to the dramatic story-telling favored by film producers.  The King’s Speech is an outstanding exception and was nominated for a dozen Academy Awards.  The Oscar for Best Screenplay went to David Seidler.

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