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Find Your Voice

Katherine Filer began stuttering when she was a child. By the time she was in high school the problem worsened. Everyday communication was a struggle – talking on the phone, ordering food at restaurants, saying how much gas she needed in her car, or simply introducing herself. The words didn’t come out of her mouth fast enough. It took her five minutes just to say her name.

She felt anxious as people grew impatient waiting for her to speak. She couldn’t say what she needed or wanted. Since she couldn’t express herself, she couldn’t develop friendships. During school, she avoided social situations. The impact was that she felt isolated and alone.

Fast forward 20 years in the future. Karen is standing in front of a room presenting a workshop to 250 people for the National Stuttering Association. She leads introductions to the Landmark Forum. She has found her voice and her calling.

As part of her participation in the Team, Management, and Leadership Program, Filer developed her own workshop with her friend Deb Chamberlin called, “Find Your Voice – Find Your Power.” The purpose of this 5-session workshop being held over five weeks is to help others who have barriers to expressing themselves – no matter what they are. Being shy, reserved or inhibited are barriers to self-expression. But also talking too much without saying anything important is an obstacle to true communication. “I’m committed to everyone’s voice being heard, not just those who stutter. I’m dedicated to helping people speak their truth, so that they’re heard powerfully in the world,” said Filer. 

Her evolution from someone who was unable to speak, to talking in front of large groups of people and leading others happened over time. As a young woman she hoped that one day she would wake up and be able to talk freely. But when she was 23 she realized that wasn’t going to happen, unless she did something about it. So, she looked through the Yellow Pages and found a speech therapist who helped her push through her fear and frustration.

After five years of diligently working with her therapist, Filer found her voice. She learned how to say what she wanted to say, when she wanted to say it, to whomever she wanted to say it to! Inspired by her new found love of language, Filer started the Tri-County Fluency Group in New Jersey, a support group for other people who stutter. By creating a community of people who shared the same challenge, members were able to develop more confidence to speak.

The local tri-county fluency group was so successful it was made into a chapter for The National Stuttering Association to provide more exposure for people across America who stutter (see below for more information).

Although Filer was making a difference for people, she often did things alone. “Before being in the Team Management and Leadership Program, I was like a star doing it by myself,” she said. “When I joined Team I saw a possibility to create things in my life that I want to create, like the workshop. I knew I could do much bigger things with a team.”

The difference is showing up not just in creating her project, but in all aspects of her life. Her friend got engaged and asked Filer to host two showers. In the past, she would have been running around, trying to get it all done by herself and complaining she didn’t have enough time.

With the training from the Team Management and Leadership Program, Filer has a new level of relatedness, being present to people in the moment. She created two different teams, one to plan each shower.

The night of the shower, the parent of the bride came up to me and she was so proud,” said Filer. “She didn’t think she could help because she speaks Spanish and isn’t confident with her English. So we created a team to help her design the invitation and she got to know herself greater than she knew herself before.”

Filer has had the same experience. “I don’t get to play small. Team listens to me as a big person,” she said. “I believe for me it’s about letting other people contribute to me.”

Creating teams and allowing people to contribute to her is creating the space for Filer to be fully self-expressed and make a difference in the world by sharing herself. In addition to the workshop, she is writing a book about her process of learning to be a powerful communicator in spite of stuttering.

For more information and resources for people who stutter go to:

www.friendswhostutter.org, which is a National Organization that offers support for children and teenagers who stutter, or www.nsastutter.org, which is the National Stuttering Association’s web site to support, self-help and advocacy for all people who stutter.

by Djuna Wjoton

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