Controversial honoring of Theo Schoenaker at the ISA-congress 2013
Posted Jul 16 2013 2:29pm
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 occurs during certain situations. It doesn’t occur always because it – stuttering – is not 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)