Spasmodic dysphonia is a speech disorder where the voice cuts out. What happens from a medical perspective is that the voice box and/or glottis spasms while the person is speaking. A example of a person speaking with a mild case of spasmodic dysphonia can be heard in the video below:

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What I picked up from Sara’s voice is that there is a lot of forcing in it in the sense that she is watching and scrutinising every sound that escapes her mouth. The tones of her voice are warm and resonant but there is also something forced about these tones for the situation she is in. The tones in her voice would better fit the situation of reassuring a loved one who was sick in hospital. She says in the video that speech therapists gave her the advice to speak from her head and to raise her tone so that she can avoid the voice breaking. This may be the standard advice for treating spasmodic dysphonia for all I know, but from my perspective this advice would more likely lead to escalation of the problem.

The problem of Sara being in her head is in my opinion the leading cause of the spasmodic dysphonia. Sara is so much her head that she watches and interrupts every sound that flows from her mouth. By watching herself in this way Sara tries to force her voice to sound a certain way. However, I can speak from experience here by saying that whenever you watch any body process intently for a period of time it leads to obsessive anxiety and the problem gets worse and worse. The more you watch; the worse the problem gets. So I would say that healing lies not only in coming down out of her head to the extent that she can stop watching every sound, but it also lies in accepting her voice as it is, including the fact that it sometimes cuts out. Sara needs to learn to allow her voice to be how it is, without forcing it to be something it is not.

Our voices when in harmony with ourselves are joyful instruments of self-expression. A free voice is not one that is watched, judged and corrected all the time. It’s one that sounds how it sounds, depending on the situation. It’s not a constant ‘friendly’ or polite tone of voice. Sometimes it may be flat; sometimes it may be soft and whispery. The free voice is always changing and is allowed to change without a guard starting over and judging it’s every move. The voice is free to express itself in different ways as befits the moment. If the voice doesn’t know how to be free in the moment, then neither can the person be free in the moment, I would say.

MY ADVICE FOR SPASMODIC DYSPHONIA: Since there appears to be an uneasy relationship to the voice and the seat of self-expression in a person with spasmodic dysphonia, healing lies in learning how to enjoy the voice and to lose the fear of it again. Ways of doing this are numerous; for example by singing, talking aloud to yourself, recording yourself making videos; reading poetry; or even going out into nature and shouting out random mad things into the air. Choose any activity or a combination of them that you are most attracted to and practice every day or as often as you can. I would also suggest testing the idea that one’s voice cutting out is wrong or bad – for example by exaggerating the voice cutting out when doing your chosen speech practice.

Finally, I would say to have hope. These strange anxiety disorders may pop up out of nowhere and drive us to distraction for longer than we would like. However, same as they pop up they can disappear again. For them to disappear we need to be flexible and open to making shifts in how we live our lives.

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Jade Joddle is an accent trainer and English teacher. She teaches her non-native speaker clients to Speak Well in English so that they thrive and succeed.

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