The UVM College of Nursing and Health Sciences community gave a tearful farewell this week to a beloved and admired faculty member. About 150 people gathered at the UVM Alumni House to celebrate the 42-year UVM career of Professor Barry Guitar, a world-renowned expert in stuttering treatment and research. Attendees included UVM faculty and staff, families of Guitar’s patients and former students, many of whom now teach, provide therapy and conduct research on communication sciences and disorders. Amid tears and laughter, they told stories, shared memories and bore witness to Guitar’s illustrious career.
Dr. Guitar teaches and supervises clinical work in stuttering, researches stuttering treatments and conducts support groups for people who stutter at UVM’s Eleanor M. Luse Center. He joined the University of Vermont as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in 1976 after earning a Master of Arts at Western Michigan University and a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He became associate professor in 1979 and full professor in 1986. He served as department chair for eight years. As a speech pathologist, he has made enormous differences in the lives of people who stutter, their families, and students who want to learn how to help them.
Stuttering’s “Rock Star”
Locally, nationally and internationally, Guitar is one of the field’s most respected scholars, with 66 published papers, journal articles, guidebooks for families, videos about stuttering and books including a widely used college text, now in its fourth edition. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) elected him fellow in 1987. In 1994, UVM honored Guitar with the Kroepsch-Maurice award for Excellence in Teaching. He received the Carnegie Foundation Vermont Teacher of the Year award in 1995. In 2015 he received the George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award for excellence in teaching and for have a lasting impact on students’ lives.
“Your doctoral student, 15 master’s theses students and 42 cohorts of master’s graduates represent a living legacy,” Dean Patricia Prelock told Guitar during the celebration. “Generations of students, families and colleagues are grateful for your dedication, mentorship, spirit, energy, spirit and sincerity.”
Danra Kazenski '06 M.S., '15 Ph.D., Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Guitar’s former student, organized the event with a team of planners including CSD staff, faculty, students and patients’ families. Kazenski produced an audio-visual presentation that had the audience laughing through tears. In her remarks, she said, “I was extremely lucky to have had the chance to work closely with Barry on my master’s research project. I moved back from Canada to Vermont to take the rare opportunity to be his only doctoral student. Everyone in the stuttering community knows and loves Barry, and for good reason.”
Kazenski described the “buzz” that occurs when Guitar arrives at national conferences and gatherings of speech-language pathologists. “People whisper, ‘that’s Barry Guitar’ and this circle forms around him. His fan club is deep.” At one national conference, Kazenski encountered a student who was thrilled to meet a student of Guitar’s. “She fanned her face and wanted to take my picture because I was Barry Guitar’s student!”
During the celebration, current UVM graduate students gave Guitar a crown and scepter and seated him on a throne, noting that he is the “King of Stuttering.” They brought out a life-sized, cardboard cut-out of Guitar, and Kazenski entertained with a slide show depicting all the places that “cardboard Barry” had visited during the past few weeks across campus and beyond.
Guitar began stuttering at age three, at a time when the behavior was taboo. He did not receive treatment until he went to college.
“It was really embarrassing. I thought it was a terrible thing that happened to me, but I came to see it as a gift,” he said. ”If you’re helping people who stutter, it’s good if you stutter yourself, because they know you’ve been there.”
He did his undergraduate work at Dartmouth College because the campus speech clinic offered therapy for students who stuttered. The therapist left when Guitar was a sophomore, and a Dean at Dartmouth offered Guitar an opportunity to take a year off to go to the University of Iowa, where a leading stuttering exert offered free therapy sessions. That expert, Dr. Charles Van Riper, became a central character in Guitar’s life.
“He was a severe stutterer who went to Iowa because they were doing research in stuttering and got his Ph.D there. He set up a stuttering program at Western Michigan University in 1936 and became known world-wide for his therapy.” As a stutterer, Van Riper was an empathetic speech therapist, and he was not opposed to trying unconventional methods, Guitar said. “He was a stuttering therapy genius. He helped me get over my fear.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree in English at Dartmouth College, Guitar spent a summer working at a camp for kids who stutter, upon Van Riper’s recommendation. This experience solidified Guitar’s career choice.
“I fell in love with working with kids who stutter. I felt that I was really able to help them,” he said. “I saw myself as a child, going back in time to help myself.”
Since then he has helped countless children and adults who stutter and their families, some of whom attended the celebration this week and told of their experiences with Guitar. They recalled fun therapy sessions where they played games, shot balls out of air guns, ate candy and made videos.
“What makes him who he is in his field is his ability to dive deeper with families to find a strategy that works for each individual,” said one patient, a 33-year-old who began therapy with Guitar at age 6. He praised Guitar’s patience and empathy, noting that Guitar helped him learn to accept himself.
“He and his wonderful student helpers gave me strategies and tools to be able to speak without being scared,” said another patient from the podium. “I’m very grateful for that.”
Kazenski read notes from patients who wrote, ‘Barry is my brother in speech;’ ‘Without Barry I would not be able to speak today;’ and ‘He gave me my voice back.’
As an educator, Guitar endeavored to push students through their fears and make each class memorable. In Washington, D.C., he took groups of children to the candy store and told them to stutter on purpose. “We would come back to the classroom and laugh about the clerk’s response to their stuttering, and then I’d give them candy. It associated stuttering with fun.”
He carried that playfulness and personal support to his work with college students, experimenting with various teaching approaches to help students find their own best ways of learning. “My job is to cause students to leap out of their chairs inspired to help people who could not communicate with their world,” Guitar said.
Kazenski described some of Guitar’s interactive teaching techniques. “He moves around the lecture hall and tells stories that draw attention, such as ‘Did I ever tell you about the time I stuttered in front of a gang of bikers?’ He flicks the lights on and off to make an important point like, ‘It’s LARYNX, not LARNIX.’ He uses students to act out how vocal folds work. You just don’t forget that.”
Graduate student Morgan Bailey ’18 said, “He relates what he’s teaching to real life and talks about what he’s learned, mistakes he’s made and his progress. He tries to be as hands-on as possible, to help you develop a level of confidence with stuttering when working with patients.”
“He makes everything interesting and personal with his anecdotes and experiences. He’s passionate about our field and wants to help everyone,” said first-year graduate student Emme O’Rourke.
Guitar recalled a student who stuttered who decided to quit the CSD program in her sophomore year because she thought her stuttering would keep her from becoming a good speech-language pathologist. He convinced her that being a person who stutters would help her achieve success. That student, Naomi Hertsberg Rodgers ’10, graduated Phi Beta Kappa and went on to graduate school.
Rodgers, who flew in from Iowa to attend the celebration, recalled that exchange with Guitar. “It was such a pivotal moment for me because he embodied what I thought a person who stutters couldn’t be – a great communicator and a master clinician – and he did it all while stuttering openly. He reassured me that my experience with stuttering would serve as a gift rather than a hindrance in my clinical work.”
Guitar is credited for introducing to the U.S. an unconventional form of speech therapy for young children called the Lidcombe method, developed in Australia in the 1990s. It involves parents monitoring a child’s speech, praising fluent talk and, in an encouraging, upbeat tone, asking the child to repeat stammered words.
Starting therapy before a child turns six is the key to success, Guitar said. “It’s harder when children are older, because they may have been teased and feel ashamed. They are dealing with emotions and bad experiences. With preschoolers, the parents can work with them at home, slowing their conversation rate down and cutting down stressors in their lives. If we get a preschool kid, we can basically cure it. We follow those kids for a few years, and most have no recollection of every having stuttered.”
Guitar was daring to use and advocate for an intervention that incorporates behavioral principles, said Rebecca McCauley, a former UVM professor and Professor of Speech and Hearing Science at Ohio State University. “He was willing to do so even when it cost him valuable supporters for his work,” “In his research and writing, Barry has never let fear stop him from stepping away from the dominant paradigm when he felt important views were being overlooked.”
“We’re in a pocket of specialness because of Barry,” said Kazenski. "His open-mindedness, genuine curiosity and straight up passion to ask tough research questions is totally inspiring. He’s driven by a seemingly endless energy to help families understand what is happening with their child’s stuttering and how they can help.”
For her research, Guitar challenged Kazenski to take on a highly innovative dissertation project with a relatively new neuroimaging technology that was the first of its kind in the field of stuttering. “Together, we secured funding for my entire Ph.D. experience and our research, which was a triumph. Now I feel like I can navigate the world of clinical research with confidence.”
At the celebration, Guitar’s students praised his strengths as a teacher and advisor. “I knew that Barry was backing me up, and he was going to give me gentle guidance,” said alumna Rhiannon Kim, lecturer in communication sciences and disorders and a practicing speech-language pathologist. She said Guitar “exemplifies an authenticity that I think is really rare and special, owning who he is without any apologies. He breaks rules and says no to things that don’t make sense to him, which I admire and try to embody.”
Guitar’s response to his own stuttering breeds confidence and trust among clients, students and colleagues. “He just won’t let stuttering stop him from sharing important ideas and making important connections. Many view this regular and taxing response to a personal liability as brave. It’s a model for how to confront and overcome their own vulnerabilities,” McCauley said. “He brings out the best in people not only because they step up to meet his gentle challenges but also because he helps them gain the confidence in themselves.”
In retirement, Guitar and his wife Carroll will settle in a new home in Lexington, Virginia, where he will engage in his favorite hobbies: gardening, birdwatching and tinkering with gadgets. He plans to form a new chapter of the National Stuttering Association there and form a support group for people who stutter. He will continue updating his textbook, “Stuttering: It’s Nature and Treatment,” for which he is currently rewriting the fifth edition. He plans to attend a writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa and write a biography of his mentor, Van Riper. He’ll maintain a research lab in Pomeroy Hall where he will continue following up with patients post-therapy. His cardboard likeness will inhabit Pomeroy to keep his legacy visible.
“No one can replace Barry, but his presence will continue to permeate 42 years’ worth of people,” said Kazenski. “How lucky we are that he’s been here with us at UVM and he is this wonderful human being. I want him to feel the love, so he won’t stay away too long.”
Contributions may be made to the University of Vermont Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in Dr. Guitar's honor via http://go.uvm.edu/guitar. (On the contribution page, click the arrow beside "My Gift is a Tribute," then select "In Honor" from the drop-down menu and enter Barry Guitar in the "Person's Full Name" box.)