Lessons From Our Mentors

quesal.jpeg About the presenter: Bob Quesal, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a professor at Western Illinois University where he serves as Program Director. He is the associate coordinator of the Steering Committee for ASHA's Special Interest Division 4 (Fluency and Fluency Disorders) and is a member of the National Stuttering Association's Research Committee. He is recognized as a fluency specialist by the Specialty Board in Fluency Disorders. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1984 and was Dean Williams's penultimate doctoral student.
About the presenter Dean Williams was a widely-known, highly regarded master clinician, teacher, and researcher in the area of stuttering. He was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, receiving his Bachelor's degree at the University of Iowa, his Master's degree at Florida State University, and his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. After working several years at Indiana University, Dean returned to the University of Iowa in the 1950's where he worked as a professor until his retirement in 1987. Williams was a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association from which he had also received its highest award, Honors of the Association. Dean Williams died on July 31, 1994, in Iowa City, Iowa. (extracted from In Remembrance of Dean E. Williams by Edward G. Conture, Ph.D.)

Lessons from our mentors

by Robert Quesal (and Dean Williams)
from Illinois, USA

It is often useful to begin by stating the obvious: we learn from our mentors. Duh. I have had a number of mentors in my life and I have colleagues today that I would consider my mentors, as well. I am fortunate during this year's International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference to have an opportunity to "co-present" with my doctoral mentor, Dr. Dean Williams from the University of Iowa. I studied with Dr. Williams from 1979-84 and he has had a profound impact on the way that I view the disorder of stuttering. What I will try to do in this year's essay is talk a bit about "mentors" and specifically about Dr. Williams, and about his comments from the "recovery" panel at the 1977 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in Chicago. I hope that most readers of this essay will have had a chance to listen to Dr. Williams's comments before reading this essay. However, I will comment on what he had to say in 1977, so listening to the audio file is not mandatory.

A short speech by Dean Williams, 1977, was sent by Steve Hood is part of a panel discussion at the ASHA convention in 1977 and is part of this presentation. (IMPORTANT: please note the size of each of the files). All the files below are of the same presentation, so you only need to open one of them.


In the dictionary, a "mentor" is defined as "a trusted counselor or guide; tutor, coach." I think the most important part of the definition is the word "trusted." Our mentors have our best interest at heart; they want us to succeed and assist us in achieving success. They value us as people and they value our efforts. We work closely with them. Because of that, they influence the way we view things and the way we do things. My personal history, written (http://www.wiu.edu/users/mfrwq/origin.html) and talked about elsewhere, reveals that there was a strong "Iowa" influence in my background. No doubt that has played a significant role in how I have evolved. More about that a bit later....

Because we develop close working relationships with our mentors, we cannot help but be influenced by them (in most cases). This influence is often quite apparent. A few years ago, I read an article in a professional journal, and as I read it, I thought, "This sounds just like [name deleted]!" The next day I did a bit of research and found that the author of the article had, in fact, studied with [name deleted], so I suppose it was not surprising that their work was very similar. Because the profession of speech-language pathology has not been around all that long, many of us in stuttering have mentors who trace back to the University of Iowa, either directly or indirectly. Lee Edward Travis, Wendell Johnson, and Charles Van Riper (and others) begat a whole bunch of "offspring" who have had a significant impact on the area of stuttering. I would attempt to name some of those offspring, but I would leave out far too many. I do know that Dean Williams studied with Johnson and that Williams mentored 27 or 28 doctoral students – I was the penultimate – and his doctoral students include Ed Conture and Ehud Yairi, among many others. Van Riper, as far as I know, never mentored any doctoral students, but his work has had considerable influence on many of us who study and treat stuttering.

When we look at the current "camps" in stuttering, we can see that certain individuals – mentors – have had considerable influence on contemporary thinking about stuttering. I'd suggest that there are only a handful of true "mentors" in the area of stuttering. We read the work of others and agree or disagree with it. We then want to interact more with those with whom we agree (and, I suppose, less with those with whom we disagree). It seems to me that this is very natural. It's not that we are not open-minded; it is simply that some perspectives resonate differently than others. When we read or hear something that appeals to us, we often want to read or hear more of what that person has to say. We are drawn to our mentors because what they have to say appeals to us, appeals to our way of thinking, or relates to our personal experience.

Over the years, as I meet other professionals, I am interested in their "pedigree." Who did they study with? What lessons did they learn from their mentors? How did their mentors influence their thinking? Once, after listening to a colleague give a presentation I commented, "You can tell that you studied with [name deleted] because of the way you talk about stuttering." I think he was insulted. That, of course, was not my intent. Instead, I wanted to let him know that I appreciated that he was furthering a view of stuttering that encompassed the entire disorder and was not focused on just one aspect, like surface fluency. At other times I have heard colleagues speak and a have thought, "Man, is he off the wall. I wonder where he studied?" I have later come to find that these individuals have studied at places like the University of Iowa. I guess the lesson here is that even if the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, at least occasionally it rolls away from the tree. I suppose, for whatever reason, some people don't agree with their mentors and therefore after the formal "mentor-student" relationship ends, they go off in different directions.

That was not the case with Dr. Williams and me. As I said, there was a strong "Iowa" influence in my background. I read Johnson and Van Riper's words before I entered speech-language pathology. Merle Stevens, the primary faculty supervisor when I was a client at Indiana University, had studied at Iowa. Robert Milisen, one of my first professors at IU (although not in the area of stuttering) had earned his Ph.D. at Iowa. Based on that, some might say I was co-opted into the Iowa "mythology" that so many have worked so hard for so many years (and particularly in recent years) to discredit. My take, of course, is a bit different: what those folks had to say about stuttering made eminent sense to me. I had spent a considerable amount of time trying to make sense out of my stuttering for many years. The "Iowa" perspective is what helped me come to grips with my stuttering. When it came time to think of places to study for the Ph.D., and possible doctoral mentors, my mentor at IU, Kennon Shank, suggested the University of Iowa and Dean Williams.

A few comments about Dean Williams

I learned a lot from Dr. Williams – not only academic information, but an approach to scholarship, how to interact with other professionals, how to write, how to think, having the courage of one's convictions, and many other things. Those who know me as a scholar and who have seen me interact with other professionals may question how good of a mentor Dr. Williams was, so let me point out that I do not always follow the good example he provided. I never heard him say anything unkind about anyone else. It is my understanding that he was occasionally chastised, or even mocked, at professional meetings for his failure to provide a good "fluency model" but he took these personal attacks in stride, realizing that they said much more about the "attacker" than they did about him.

While he was quite grandfatherly when I knew him, he had a more serious – even angry – side that would emerge when he was passionate about what he was discussing. This was most obvious in two areas – clinical supervision and mentoring doctoral scholarship. Many students would emerge from his office in tears after discussing how they were handing a client. While I was never reduced to tears after having my thinking and writing critiqued, it was a humbling experience to spend two-plus hours in Dr. Williams's office having a dissertation draft critiqued via a very Socratic method. However, at the end of these interactions, one never felt defeated. Instead, with a pat on the back, Dr. Williams would encourage me (and his supervisees) that he had confidence that we would do the right thing. Ultimately, we did.

What I admired most about my mentor was that he remained true to his "Point of View about Stuttering" throughout his career. His "Point of View" article (1957) laid out his perspective on stuttering and that perspective held fairly constant. While we can look back after nearly 50 years and find flaws in what Williams had to say, the basic premises, in my opinion, still hold true today. When one looks at some others in the area of stuttering whose careers have been spent bouncing from one "hot" perspective to another, suggesting no real anchoring view of the disorder, Williams's consistency becomes that much more impressive.

Dean Williams's comments at ASHA in 1977

Much of the "Point of View" comes through in Dean Williams's comments at the 1977 ASHA Convention. In fact, Williams uses some of the same phrases from the 1957 article during his talk. As you listen to Williams, however, I think there are a few things that come across: First, he does not sound like an arrogant man (and he wasn't). He has a very calm and self-effacing way of speaking, Second, he makes it clear that he does not have all the answers. Even after having worked with people who stutter for a quarter-century, he still indicates that there are things about stuttering (both his and that of others) that are not clear to him. Third, like most of us, he was influenced by his experiences and his mentors. Finally, what he talks about at ASHA is just a small part of his overall perspective of stuttering. He focused on one aspect – "fear" – but do not be misled into thinking that was all that Dr. Williams believed was important in stuttering. The interested reader might want to have a look at his bibliography.

A rich history
Williams begins his ASHA talk by mentioning those who were at Iowa when he arrived: Wendell Johnson, Charles Van Riper, and Lee Edward Travis. It is interesting that Williams's first clinician was Johnson, and Van Riper was in the laboratory doing research when Williams arrived at Iowa. Williams also mentions the "student clinicians" who worked with him (and how he "taught" them). Many of them became mentors for others in the profession. Williams talks about the therapies that he was exposed to at Iowa, many of which seem very crude by today's standards, but one of which, the "bounce," he credits with much of his success.

"Fear" in stuttering, which takes on many forms
The primary topic in Williams's talk is "fear" of stuttering. However, he takes great pains to point out that to talk about "fear of stuttering" is not descriptive enough. (My guess is that this need for specificity probably arose from the influence of Johnson.) Williams breaks down the definition of "fear" in stuttering. While these definitions overlap to some degree, I think most people who stutter would agree that there is relevance to the nuances that Williams points out:

  • Fear of the stigma – fear of talking because of being "found out." People react to us differently when we stutter. Most of us who stutter have been stigmatized at various times – some of us more than others, no doubt. It only takes a few experiences like this, however, to develop the fear of the stigma. Associated with the fear of the stigma, or perhaps following that, comes the fear of talking. If talking is often accompanied by stuttering (which may lead to stigma), we soon decide that it might be better not to talk at all.
  • Fear of talking because I might not be able to get the word out. We often get "stuck" when we want to talk. The word just "won't come out." We may want to start to talk, but nothing seems to happen. Because of this, we may give up attempts to speak.
  • Fear that once I stutter I won't stop. Williams talked about this a lot. It wasn't the stutter that was the big deal – it was the fear of being stuck in a stutter and not being able to stop stuttering. He'd often ask clients, "If I could guarantee that the worst stutter you'd ever have would be two repetitions of a syllable ("rep- repetition"), would you stay in therapy to achieve perfect fluency?" Essentially everyone would answer "no." I think most of us have had the experience – the stutter starts and it feels like there's nothing you can do to stop it. Pretty scary, pretty uncomfortable, pretty frustrating.
  • Fear that if I stutter once, it will lead to an "avalanche" of stuttering. This is similar to the previous fear, but it refers to the presence of stuttering in ongoing speech. I think this is another experience that many, if not most of us have had. You're talking along pretty well (a "good day") and all of a sudden, you have a disfluency. Not sure why, but it just shows up. You manage it, and move on, but – there's another one, and another, and before you know if the wheels have fallen off. No fun.
  • Fear of behavioral disintegration in front of others. Tied in with all of the fears above is the fear of just making a fool of yourself – loss of control. In my classes, I use the analogy of falling on the ice: When you are walking in the winter and you fall on the ice, what is the first thing you do? You look around to see if anyone saw you fall. Then you see if you hurt yourself. Because stuttering doesn't happen all the time, it makes it that much more noticeable. We are talking along – we have "behavioral integrity" and then suddenly our speech breaks down. (Which, I suppose, is why some of our "helpful" friends like to suggest, "You do it some of the time, why not to it all the time?")
  • Helplessness. The "culmination" of all the fears is the feeling of helplessness – waiting until I feel that the word will come out – there is nothing I can do. (This relates to what Perkins talked about – feeling of loss of control – in 1990. This is a critical aspect of stuttering that, in my opinion, has not been given the attention it deserves.)

Dealing with fear
Williams points out that there are two ways to deal with any fear: 1) Learn from experience that your fears are groundless – we can behave in the face of fear; and 2) be reassured that the thing you fear won't ever happen again.

The first way to deal with fear – we can behave in the face of fear – is a critical part of Williams's point of view. He explains that this is the basis of techniques like "bounce" which he was taught in his therapy at Iowa. However, he points out that techniques like the "bounce" don't address all of the fears defined above. The bounce, according to Williams, doesn't address the fear of stigma or the fear of avalanche of stuttering. That is, in part, because sometimes a "bounce" or voluntary stutter can turn into a "real" stutter. The bounce does help with fear of not being able to finish the word and with ability to maintain behavioral integrity. That is because the bounce provides a tool which can be used to change behavior.

The second way to deal with fear – assuring the individual that the feared thing won't ever happen again – appears to be the basis of "fluency shaping" approaches to treatment. Logically, giving a client fluency can help to eliminate the fear. However, Williams makes an important point – a stutterer can be fluent for 3 days, then stutter. Simple fluency counts do not tell us whether fears have been eliminated. If a client experiences that loss of control, s/he may think, "it's coming back." In my experience, this has been what many individuals who have gone through behavioral programs (unsuccessfully) have reported. "I started to stutter again and I didn't know what to do."

Williams states his primary ("final") goal for stuttering treatment: "for the person to be able to talk the way he wants to talk, any time, any place." The client must lose the feeling of helplessness – s/he must feel in charge of what s/he's doing. Williams points out that the person may "flub" if "success" is based on fluency counts, but fluency counts are not necessarily good goals or good measures. Williams says, "I've worked in this too long to try to impose the goals for the client." (Those of use who work with people who stutter should engrave that quote on a plaque and put it our walls.) Another shortcoming of fluency counts that Williams talks about are what he refers to as "almost stutters." Those of us who stutter can, I think, relate to this – we are fluent on the surface but our fluency is not normal by any means (it just appears that way to the listener). A client can be fluent and terrified, but if we are just "counting stutters" we have no way of knowing whether the fluency is "real" fluency or full of these "almost stutters." Therapy has addressed the surface behavior, but not the underlying feelings that are so important for many people who stutter.

He points out that the "stigma" may never go away. If you slip up, even occasionally, you may always be evaluated as a stutterer. But the nature of the stuttering – how much you stutter and how severely you stutter – can definitely change. And people probably don't worry as much about our stuttering as we do. Often, the negative evaluations of a few listeners color our feelings about all others' reactions.

Williams points out that to maintain fluency, you have to know that you can talk – success breeds success. This relates to the notion of change often occurring over a long time (discussed by Manning, 1999, and others). You realize that "you are doing what you are doing – nothing is going to happen to you." There are no feelings of helplessness because you can manage your stuttering. Williams points out that we tend dwell or focus on the stutter (another point he makes in the 1957 article). Williams says he prefers to think of home base as talking – as doing those kinds of things that people have to do to talk.


For some reason, many believe that if ideas and information are "old" they no longer have value. I would argue that most of what we know today is derived from the knowledge and efforts of our mentors. While we should not blindly follow what our mentors told us, we should value their contributions. We should not blindly dismiss what they had to say, but instead should weigh their words carefully to determine the value that remains. I have been lucky – I have had a number of excellent mentors in my career, and no one could ask for a better mentor than Dean Williams. I will always value my mentors and what they taught me.


Manning, W. (1999). Progress under the surface and over time. Chapter 10 (pp. 123-130) In N. Bernstein Ratner & E. C. Healey, Stuttering Research and Treatment: Bridging the Gap. Mahwah, NJ.: Lawrence Earlbaum, Inc.

Perkins, W.H. (1990). What is stuttering? Journal of Speech & Hearing Disorders, 55, 370-382.

Williams, D.E. (1957). A point of view about 'stuttering'. Journal of Speech & Hearing Disorders, 22, 390-397.

Coincidentally, on the day that I began to write this essay, I got a call from my first mentor, Kennon Shank from Indiana University. I met Dr. Shank in 1973. He was my Master's mentor. He and I were co-authors on my first publication. He was the first person who believed that I could go on to earn a Ph.D., and encouraged me to do so. He suggested that I study with Dean Williams at Iowa. He has encouraged me throughout my professional career. He is like a second father to me. He has had a significant influence on my life for thirty years. He, in my opinion, personifies what a mentor is. For that reason, I dedicate this ISAD essay to him, as just a small token of my thanks and appreciation.

September 1, 2003