Hmmm, is there a cure for Spasmodic Dysphonia?

If you agree with Mort Cooper, Ph.D., by mouthing a reflexive “uh huh,” you’re bound to receive a pat on the back for good vocal delivery.

“That’s putting the voice in the lips and the nose where it belongs,” says the Los Angeles-based speech-language pathologist and voice specialist. “You’ve got to get it out of the lower throat and into the ‘mask’.”

Few members of the medical community agree with Dr. Cooper, however, when it comes to diagnosing and treating spasmodic dysphonia, an involuntary movement of the vocal cords commonly referred to as “strangled voice.”

Waging a decades-old battle for recognition and respectability, Dr. Cooper says the medical establishment continues to label SD a neurological problem, but that the condition is essentially a ‘mechanical misuse of the speaking voice.’ He maintains that his methods have restored speech for hundreds of people otherwise doomed to a lifetime of chronic hoarseness of speaking words at 45 rpm on a 33-rpm turntable.

“The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association indicates there are no cures (for SD),” says the controversial Dr. Cooper. “That position is untenable.”

Who is this masked man?

A former director of the Voice and Speech Clinic at UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Cooper claimed a 98 percent SD recovery rate as early as 1974. (The results of his study were published by the Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders.) According to Dr. Cooper, other studies and referrals from top medical centers followed, and his cure rate remained high.

“But they (the medical centers) will not go on record,” says Dr. Cooper. “It’s politically incorrect.”

“That’s because grant monies flow from the assumption that SD has a neurological basis,” insists Dr. Cooper, who adds that ‘critics’ claim his success stories are not true SD cases. “Or they say the cure doesn’t last,” he says. “But I follow up my patients for seven to nine years after discharge, and they remain in excellent (vocal) condition.”

To rescue the strangled voice, Dr. Cooper says he practices “direct voice rehabilitation” rather than conventional speech therapy. The Dr. Cooper Instant Voice Press locates and individual’s “natural voice” through proper breathing and a series of vocal exercises that shift sounds from the throat to the mouth. Patients hum “Happy Birthday,” say various “buzz words,” clear their throats (ahem) and say “uh huh” until it hurts.

It may not be the prescription for Luciano Pavorotti, but Dr. Cooper says it works for people with SD.

“I use pitch as a prop to get the right focus, and breath support follows,” he says.

“There’s no secret here, I have videos that show before and after.” They (SD patients) are talking without air…squeezing it out. That can happen as a result of trauma, or over a long period of misusing the speaking voice.”

But it doesn’t result form a neurological deficit, according to Dr. Cooper, whose view-point isn’t shared by most of his peers. Even those who acknowledge his successes and the existence of “non-organic” SD emphasize that most cases are of neurological origin. And these, they say, cannot be remedied short of paralyzing the vocal cords with an injection of substances such as botulinum toxin.

Not so, says Dr. Cooper, who decries the “poisoning” of the vocal cords and sees reflux medication, allergy shots and deviated septum surgery as pointless and unnecessary. His techniques, he says, work for both types of SD: abductor (characterized by breathiness or tremor) and adductor (deep-throat strangulation a la Henry Kissinger).

“Medicine is not trained to judge this – there are only six hours of voice training (in medical school),” says Dr. Cooper. “They’re not touching the variables that make a difference. Medicine has called this (SD) ‘hopeless.’ Since the first diagnosis in 1871, there have been no cures due to medical intervention.

“But I’ve reported hundreds of cures in the last 20 years, and anyone who’s interested can do what I’m doing.”

Hmmm (another vocalism that nicely reaches the “mask”) – sounds like a clear difference of opinion. Does Dr. Cooper plan to continue with his refrain?

Uh huh.