Defense Attorney Uses Fluency Skills Learned at HCRI to Effectively Serve Clients

Meeting with clients, arguing cases in court, and making scores of phone calls represent a typical day’s work for public defenders. Yet, for attorney Christopher Missiaen of Medford, Oregon, these communication tasks are activities he never takes for granted. Missiaen has a stuttering condition that makes it difficult for him to get his words to flow smoothly and spontaneously.

The successful defense attorney is one of three million people in the U.S. and 66 million globally who stutter. The condition occurs when speech muscles inappropriately contract and jump out of control during attempts to speak. Stuttering ranges in severity and has the potential to serves as a barrier to people reaching their full potential in life.

However, observing Missiaen’s powerful closing argument in a recent high-profile Oregon murder trial, no one would know he has endured stuttering since his youth.

Unlike many people who stutter, Missiaen’s speech condition didn’t get in the way of his education or social life, as he was growing up. He was highly determined and learned how to “accommodate” his speech by replacing words and avoiding certain speaking situations.

When he graduated from University of Oregon School of Law in 2005, he landed a position as a personal injury attorney. Missiaen’s days were spent talking with clients, making calls, and doing public speaking. The techniques he previously used to mask his stuttering, including word substitution, were no longer working for him.

“With the law, you can’t replace one word with a different one simply because you are having trouble saying it,” Missiaen said. “I found myself unable to say things I needed to say.”

As a result, Missiaen grew increasingly concerned about his stuttering. He felt his speech was being misperceived and undermined his effectiveness in his job. “A lot of my disfluencies are blockages where I can’t get a particular word to come out when I’m trying to speak. It looks to outside observers that I can’t figure out what I want to say,” he explained.

Compounding his concern and frustration, Missiaen also had ambitions to become a public defender, a role requiring eloquent, persuasive speaking abilities in court. He knew it was time to address his speech disorder if he was going to succeed as a courtroom attorney.

Then, he read about Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) in a book written by broadcast journalist John Stossel, who overcame an inhibiting stuttering condition by participating in HCRI’s intensive stuttering therapy program. Missiaen was intrigued and reviewed information on the internet about the Roanoke, Virginia-based program.

He learned that HCRI treats stuttering as a physical disorder. Therapy involves teaching people how to replace faulty speech muscle movements that cause stuttering with new muscle behaviors that generate fluency. After reading through HCRI’s website, www.stuttering.org, Missiaen enrolled in the Institute’s 12-day therapy program.

During treatment, Missiaen learned new ways to use his speech muscles to bring his stuttering under his control. He spent 100 hours in therapy, which also included learning how to transfer his new speaking skills to real-world situations. By the end of his two-week program, he spoke fluently for the first time in his life. In addition, Missiaen acquired tools to maintain his fluency over time.

According to HCRI’s Webster, “Our approach to stuttering therapy is objective, comprehensive, and results driven. No other stuttering treatment replicates the sophistication of HCRI’s treatment program or the individualized approach from which clients benefit.”

Research shows 93 percent of HCRI therapy program participants achieve fluent speech by the end of their 12-day treatment program. Follow-up studies indicate that 70 to 75 percent of people maintain fluency for the long term. HCRI researchers continually refine the Institute’s stuttering therapy, based on research and experience with thousands of cases that range from mild stuttering to severe speech impairments.

“Without HCRI therapy, I could not talk to my clients or be effective in court. There are still times when I stumble on words; but, HCRI’s tools help me get through that,” Missiaen added. To maintain his fluency, the public defender practices regularly and maintains ongoing contact with his clinical team at HCRI.

HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,000 people, aged 9 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at call 855-236-7032 (toll-free), 540-265-5650 or admin@stuttering.org.