The Stuttering Iceberg Gets a Makeover


reframe stuttering

[Image description: A vibrant photo of an iceberg showing the small, glimmering peaks above the water and a massive body beneath the water’s surface. “STUTTERING” is written over the peaks. Below the water’s surface appears words in multiple colors: “Denial, Fear, Shame, Anxiety, Isolation, Guilt, Hopelessness.” Next to this picture is an identical photo of the iceberg with “STUTTERING” above the water. Below the water’s surface are these words: “Acceptance, Courage, Pride, Comfort, Community, Kindness, Hope.”]

Recently I posted the image “Reframing the Stuttering Iceberg” on my blog.  The image and idea came years ago when I presented the concept at a stuttering event.  I wanted to take some time to reflect on stuttering and maybe even help others to reframe how they look at stuttering.  I also think that these ideas transcend stuttering and could be applied to other disabilities (especially psychiatric), sexual orientation, addiction, etc…


Stuttering as an iceberg comes from Joe Sheehan who developed it as a way to help people understand what is underneath stuttering.  Most people associate stuttering as only a speech disorder but underneath it, people who stutter (PWSs) might experience denial, fear, shame, anxiety, isolation, guilt, and hopelessness.  For a long time I thought the best approach to this was to make my iceberg small beneath the surface so that the feelings Sheehan discussed would be less significant in my life.  This didn’t feel right to me.  I don’t believe that you can take something away without replacing it with something more positive.  For example, take 12 step programs where addiction is addressed by replacing it with spirituality, acceptance, community, etc…


Although Sheehan’s stuttering iceberg is wonderful and fabulous and has helped me understand my own experience of stuttering, I always felt something was missing.  I have never seen an iceberg in real life but I imagine it looks different from different perspectives.  I felt the Sheehan’s iceberg needed a makeover.  It was important for me personally to look at the below the surface elements to see how I could reframe these things in my own life.  Here is what I came up with:

Denial —-Acceptance








My original plan was to methodically go through each of these and describe exactly what I meant by each one but either I am way too tired to do that or it feels unauthentic at this time.  What does resonate with me at the moment is how I sometimes feel pressured to full accept my stuttering at all times in all situations.  This pressure can be a formula to beat yourself up.  I am never able to live completely and utterly in my new and improved iceberg because every once and while my perspective will go back to the one I originally had with the shame, isolation, etc….


Someone told me the other day that because she had PTSD she had the responsibility to care for herself.  I think this goes for myself and others who stutter.  We need to accept responsibility for our stuttering.  Some would say that the responsibility is to achieve fluency; others might say it is to be an effective communicator.  I personally feel that it is our responsibility to make of our stuttering iceberg what we want.  Reframing the denial, fear, shame, anxiety, isolation, guilt and hopelessness into whatever if right for you.  I simply reframed Sheehan’s model based on my own experiences and observations.  I personally think it kicks ass and should be taught in every fluency class because it presents an alternative to the usual pathologizing models.  Plus I think real actions can come from acceptance, courage, pride, comfort, community, kindness and hope.  These might help to guide others, but I also think that people should create their own icebergs.  Perhaps it might help to draw your old iceberg, your current iceberg and the iceberg you would like to achieve.


If we are working from the alternative iceberg that I presented here, there are questions that might be helpful:

What does acceptance of my stuttering mean for me?  How will I know when I experience it? (Note, I did not use the word “achieve” because I feel this is a process that is never achieved because things will trip you up and that is ok)

How do you embody courage?  What kind of things do you do to practice courage?  This doesn’t have to be giving speeches in front of hundreds of people.  It can be posting about stuttering on Facebook, ordering from a drive through, or telling a joke at a party.

How will you express pride in your experience of stuttering and the stuttering community?

How will you become comfortable with speaking and how you think about stuttering?

How will you be kind to yourself and others?  We sometimes beat ourselves up because of our speech and I know that I verbally beat others up.  How can kindness and perhaps forgiveness be part of our experience of stuttering?

What do you hope to be with your stuttering (not in spite of it)?


Please feel free to post your thoughts on this topic.   I think it is important for us to see other icebergs to know how we might improve our own.

9 thoughts on “The Stuttering Iceberg Gets a Makeover”

  1. …and when I re-posted your Stuttering Iceberg on my facebook I added…. “brain injury? …for PTSD? for “other hidden” mental illnesses?” (I have bi-polar disorder — long, many years controlled with meds)

  2. A great post, thank you Nina. I have recently reflected on the iceberg theory and I have mentioned your blog post and picture – really great discussions points.

  3. Hello! May I please include your iceberg makeover in my fluency course for graduate-level speech-language pathology students? I will cite you, of course! I totally love your perspective on this! Thank you!

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