Dr. Israel Goldiamond, a Chicago psychologist, cures stutterers by telling them that they need a goal to overcome their problem. His is the voice of painful experience. Goldiamond, 56, is a paraplegic as a result of a 1970 auto accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. “I had no time to sit around weeping about my accident, about the fact that I no longer could hike with my wife in our leisure time or move about as I once had,” he recalls. “Resumption of my professional life was critical to me and since that meant participating in rehabilitation programs, I participated above and beyond the call of duty.”
A Ukraine-born immigrant, Goldiamond has rehabilitated himself so well that he often works 12 to 15 hours a day, treating patients at the University of Chicago hospital, teaching classes in behavior modification at the university or writing in his Hyde Park high-rise apartment. And he has attracted national attention for his work with stutterers, which began in 1963.
Such historic figures as Moses and Winston Churchill stuttered, and about two million people in the United States today stutter enough for it to be a problem. But until recently, it had been considered a condition related to anxiety, and usually had been treated with little success.
Goldiamond, however, theorized that people stutter because they have learned that it is beneficial in some way, such as in gaining attention. The solution, he argues, is to convince patients that normal speech will be advantageous. (Other current theories raise the possibility that mislearning speech in childhood, faulty hearing or a defective vocal apparatus cause stuttering.)
Once a patient has made a commitment—in the form of a “contract” specifying the degree of fluency he wishes to achieve—Goldiamond teaches through drills. These involve a stretching of vowels and working to improve phrasing. Since 1967 he has used the method with 80 patients—some in as few as two sessions, others in as many as 29, and all but two of them no longer stutter.
(One of his failures was a patient who had been exempted from military service. “After learning the new speech pattern, he discovered he would no longer be exempt,” Goldiamond says. “Guess what happened?”)
Goldiamond, who is now testing his techniques on cigarette smokers, drug addicts and obese patients, has shown no such backsliding with his own problem. One of his roommates during the eight months he was hospitalized, Wall Street Journal Midwest editor John McWethy, says, “He is a gutsy, persistent devil who knew his goals and worked toward them. He and his method were an inspiration to help me back toward a halfway normal life.” Dr. Goldiamond can take an extra measure of satisfaction from that tribute. John McWethy is a quadriplegic.