You may remember The King’s Speech, a 2010 movie about King George VI who, after his brother abdicated the throne in 1936, needed to be able to speak effectively in public despite the stammer he had since childhood. He enlisted the help of Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and language therapist who was a great help to the King. The two men became friends and later, when Britain declared War on Germany in 1939, he relied on Logue to help him make his first wartime radio broadcast.
Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee for President, also overcame stuttering to a large extent, in his case by working on his own. In 2020 he talked about King George’s experiences, and his own, at a town hall event during the New Hampshire primary, which you can see in the clip above.
When I saw the movie it occurred to me that when the King reached out for help, a different advisor with different contacts might well have suggested F. Matthias Alexander. Alexander, who was also from Australia, was living and teaching in London and was known for helping people with breathing and speaking issues, and had quite a few clients among the “right people”.
The Alexander Technique, which he developed, could have taken quite a different path had that happened!*
Like a lot of people, I didn’t know that Biden had a stuttering issue and I owe it to Monika Gross, an Alexander Technique teacher in North Carolina, for bringing it to my attention with her posts on the Alexander Technique Forum.
Here’s a little about what she said:
Interesting – and extremely moving – testimonial by VP Joe Biden about his personal experience as a stutterer, at a February 2020 New Hampshire Democratic Primary Town Hall. FM had a whole chapter in The Use of the Self about a case study of a client who was a stutterer. Wonderful to think that around 1955, at the same time FM was at the end of his life in London, in Wilmington, Delaware, young Joey Biden was using a mirror and self-observation to develop constructive conscious control of his manner of use.
The chapter is titled “The Stutterer” and while it contains some valuable insights,** I’m not sure I’d give it to someone not already a bit familiar with the Alexander Technique. For me, Alexander comes across as being the expert that the reader (presumably someone who stutters) should submit him or herself to.
On the other hand, I’m pretty sure Biden could get some very useful help from an Alexander teacher – who I think could make his “anti-stuttering” strategies more fluid, and less likely to seem like cognitive issues.
* You can read more about these parallels in The King’s Speech and The Alexander Technique…Is there a link between Lionel Logue and FM Alexander?
**For example that stuttering involves “many other parts of (the) body besides…tongue and lips” and that the most effective process of stopping it requires making changes in how the whole body functions.