The Therapeutic Relationship and Use of Music in “The King’s Speech”

My husband and I took advantage of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday today to see the movie, “The King’s Speech.”

Here’s the official trailer for the movie:

This film tells the story of King George VI of England, who sought treatment for stuttering from a therapist who was using a rather unorthodox approach for the time. This therapy became especially important when war with Germany broke out shortly after his ascension to the throne, necessitating radio broadcasts of speeches to the nation.

This movie was especially interesting to the music therapist in me for a couple of reasons. I enjoyed the scenes showing how the therapeutic relationship developed between the king and his therapist, Lionel. The way Lionel approached his reluctant patient was excellent and, hopefully, true to life. This character did a good job of establishing rapport, helping his client achieve some success early on, and starting by working from the king’s comfort zone then challenging him to work even harder, in different ways than the king initially expected. I thought Lionel’s character served as a pretty decent model for developing the therapeutic relationship. (He even modeled confidentiality quite well!)

Of course, I also have to point out that this film portrayed a couple of therapeutic uses of music. The use of singing was portrayed as one method for working through stuttering. We know that singing uses different neural pathways than speech, which is why a technique like melodic intonation therapy works for people who have lost verbal abilities due to strokes. Dancing to music to release inhibitions, increase fluency, and take the focus away from the stutter also played a part in this movie.

I have not done any clinical work myself with people who have stutters, but I have heard that Colin Firth, who played King George VI, did a great job of portraying what it is like to have this particular problem. Listening to the discussion about stuttering and this movie on the call-in show Talk of the Nation is a great companion to this movie.

Have you seen “The King’s Speech?” What did you think?