Dr. Paul Jenkins recently joined Susan Reagan to share his experience with living with a vocal disorder and overcoming challenges each day through the power of positivity.

In this interview… Susan and Dr. Jenkins cover a number of exciting things, including:

  • Enhancing and improving life with a vocal disorder
  • The true impact of positivity
  • Finding the voice that works for you
  • Conquering perceived limitations

And, if you are unable to listen to the interview, we have included the transcript! It’s located beneath the audio.

Here’s it is. Enjoy and please leave a comment!


Susan: Welcome, Dr. Jenkins. Thank you so much for joining us on Vocal Disorders. First of all, I would like to commend you for your strength and your fortitude in carrying on, not only in your practice, but your professional life in dealing with a vocal disorder. So, welcome, and I’m sure that the Vocal Disorders community will enjoy what you have to share with us today.

Dr. Jenkins: Well, thank you. It’s an honor to be with you today, and I appreciate this opportunity.

Susan: Absolutely. Dr. Jenkins, you come to us from Utah. Is that correct?

Dr. Jenkins: That’s right.

Susan: And what do you do out there in Utah?

Dr. Jenkins: I have a positive psychology practice.

Susan: And what exactly is that?

Dr. Jenkins: Well, I started out as a traditional psychologist. I had a traditional psycho-therapy practice which I operated about 12 years or so; and about 8 years ago, I made a transition to positive psychology which is best characterized – if you think of your mental health on a spectrum or a continuum, clear on the left end is the sick end where we have diagnosis pathology treatment. My practice is now focused on the other end of that spectrum. So, to understand that, if you go to the middle first, that’s health. Health – meaning not sick. So you could be sick in bed with a fever and throwing up. There comes a time when you can get out of bed, and you’re not sick, but that doesn’t mean you’re truly fit – thriving, prospering. So, this other end of the spectrum is now what I focus on with my clients. I also do a lot of speaking and I author books and things like that as well.

Susan: Dr. Jenkins, just really quick, I have a couple of questions in the short time that you’ve shared with me so far. Is it safe to say that you’re switching from the sickness end of the spectrum to the prevention end of the spectrum going from treatment to prevention? Is that about a fair kind of summary?

Dr. Jenkins: That’s approaching it, but even beyond prevention, there’s this whole end of the spectrum that’s not even concerned about a disease or pathology process, where the focus instead is on optimal functioning and thriving and prospering. So, does that bring about prevention? Yes, it does, but it’s more of a secondary thing. It’s also effective in terms of an old treatment mentality which if someone is struggling, for example, with depression or anxiety; it will be improved through applying principles of positive psychology. We can also prevent mental illnesses or disorders from occurring. But the focus really is on enhancing and improving functioning.   It’s really a prosperity and thriving sort of a model instead of a pathology and treatment sort of a model.

Susan: Okay, great. You know Dr. I really would love to know why did you change your perspective in treatment to go from the treatment of, not necessarily disease state, but from that of sickness to the change of positive psychology.

Dr. Jenkins: We’ve known for a long time, in my industry, that there is a correlation between happiness and success. We used to think that meant well, if you’re successful, you’ll be happy. But the research is really showing now that it’s the other way around. Happiness brings about or causes or creates an environment for success in whatever ways we like to measure that. So, in concert with that, I’ve shifted my practice model to focus on positive psychological functioning, happiness, joy, prosperity. And, as a natural result of that, people experience higher levels of success in whatever we choose to measure.

Susan: Wow, that’s very interesting. They say that our minds control our actions and our actions control …   Our actions control our behaviors and behaviors control our actions. So, this definitely ties into that mind set.

Susan: You know I would like to talk more about 20 years of professional practice and your authoring of the book…

Dr. Jenkins: “Pathological Positivity”…   That’s a little funny to some people because the word pathological from a psychological perspective, it means disconnected from reality or disordered or crazy really. But, it also means compulsively driven. You’ve probably heard the phrase pathological liar, for example. In that particular usage of the word, this is someone who is so compulsively driven to something that they can’t even stop it. So, I’ve applied that meaning to the application of positive attitude, positive thinking in order to generate optimal levels of mental health and relationships and functioning. So I call the book “Pathological Positivity” for that purpose.

Susan: Dr. Jenkins, where would someone be able to purchase this book?

Dr. Jenkins: There’s actually a dot com for that title, pathologicalpositivity.com, and that’s the quickest way to get to it.

Susan: Great to know that’s available. So, would you pay for it by credit card or what are the other options? Is Paypal and option?

Dr. Jenkins: Yes, absolutely. The primary distribution I’m using is Amazon. It’s pretty seamless in terms of payment and shipment.

Susan: Approximately how long is the book? Could you get through it in a day, in a week?

Dr. Jenkins: Well, my favorite psychological answer is “It depends.”

Susan: That’s a very good answer.

Dr. Jenkins: How fast are you going to read it? You know all of those things come into play. It’s a typical personal development self-improvement book. There are 24 chapters and just over 200 pages.

Susan: It’s extensive.

Dr. Jenkins: Well, yes. What we’re doing in the book is digging down to the philosophy and the psychology behind positive thinking. You’ve heard it forever, I’m sure, to just think positive. You hear that shouted from the stage, from personal development gurus. Well, what we’re doing in this book, “Pathological Positivity” is digging down to the “how” and the “why” behind positive thinking so that you get a really firm grip on the principles that will actually make a difference in your life.

Susan: You know, absolutely. You know what the idea of positivity is one of the things – it’s the only driving factor that allowed me to get my voice back in dealing with what they thought to be spasmodic dysphonia but ended up being muscle tension dysphonia. So, positivity and never giving up and reinforcing the fact that I would speak again and that I would be successful in life really helped me to get through what I had to get through.

Susan: So, Vocal Disorders chose you to be a special guest… Let’s talk about your travels with spasmodic dysphonia, and what your journey was like dealing with a vocal disorder . Your voice is actually beautiful, and you cannot tell that there is anything wrong. So, tell us about your journey, the onset of what it was like to find out that you had a vocal disorder that was going to be chronic.

Dr. Jenkins: Well, and thank you for that opportunity. First of all, I want to acknowledge you said that you “can’t tell” that it’s there, but I have to acknowledge that I can.

Susan: Yes, you feel it. You feel it.

Dr. Jenkins: Yes, and it requires a conscious determined effort. You hear me pause occasionally. My clients and my audiences have come to accept those pauses as my opportunity to create some kind of emotional impact with what I’m saying. It’s actually a very conscious effort for me to create voice and to select the words I have learned that I can actually initiate a sentence with.

(Interruption. . .)

Susan: Dr. Jenkins, I apologize. There’s a little delay in the service here. I’m sorry, but I’m sitting here smiling and shaking my head because what you’re saying is exactly how I manage my speech. You know if there is a word that’s just not coming out, that’s stuck, I pick a different word. You know, while I sound good, I feel the hiccups and the catches and the glitchy-ness and the ups and the downs.

Dr. Jenkins: Yes.

Susan: So, that’s why I’m smiling. I’m in total agreement. Absolutely, everything you’re saying is how to manage speaking so that you’re not gasping for breath, that you’re not, you know that you’re able to get your words out in some type of understandable manner.

Dr. Jenkins: Right. Susan, there has not been a day that; or if there has been, it’s been maybe a handful of days in the last 15 years that I haven’t had to intentionally and consciously think about my voice. For those who don’t have a vocal disorder, this might be a very strange idea. But, for those of you who have this condition, you know exactly what I’m talking about. At first, it was much more disabling to me. This was about 15 years ago, and I actually addressed it in my book because it was such a life altering experience for me to get a diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia. Because I’m a psychologist, my voice is my tool of production. I’m also a professional speaker. I’m the vice-president of the National Speakers’ Association here in the western United States in our mountain west chapter. I speak every day. I do radio. I do podcasting. I do television. So, I’ve got to have my voice. Right?

Susan: Absolutely.

Dr. Jenkins: You know, Susan, this ties in to the positive psychology because our mind has to make sense out of what’s happening to us one way or another. I went to a doctor just shook his head. He had no idea and he took some guesses. He said, maybe it’s stress or maybe it’s just fatigue or something like that. I was very busy in my practice, but I didn’t feel particularly stressed. So, it didn’t resonate with me. Well, my mind started, and this is what I address in my book. If any of you have a copy of my book, just note page 60 is where I started the story about my vocal disorder and what happened with that. I tried to figure it out in my own mind; and you know what, we answer our own questions with as much or as little information as we have, and sometimes we’re way off. So, my own mind was creating answers like, “Well, maybe I’m psychologically disturbed.” Then my religious upbringing kicked in, my conservative religious background that said, “Oh, well maybe God’s angry with me or I’ve sinned or something to deserve this curse.” None of that makes any sense.

Well, I finally got in with a team – an amazing vocal disorders team at the University of Utah Specialty Clinic. These guys know what they’re doing and probably the only ones in the state who have seen this and know how to correctly diagnosis it. They gave me the information that I needed. That what was going on, and just having a title for it or a name for it helped me to get in a position where I could start to wrap my head around this thing and find some ways to approach it. I tried the botox. Those who have spasmodic dysphonia know that botox injections are one of the treatments. It did take away the spasms, yes, but I completely lost my voice for a couple of months. Then I couldn’t sing for like a half year after that.

Susan: Wow! So it must have been hard to tolerate.

Dr. Jenkins: So, you know, I decided I would take a different approach; and really all I have done, first of all I would say, is accepting it. Okay, this is what I’ve got – okay. Wrapping my arms and my mind around it so that I could accept – this is what it is. And it doesn’t mean that I have to stop doing what I love or stop serving people in the way that I have become accustomed to serving them; I just get to do it differently.

So, I take . . . okay, now I’ve got to take a breath here.

I take different words to start my sentences. I know which ones work and which ones don’t. I pause, creating a dramatic effect, right? But, it’s really just buying time for me to get the voice going. And I do that, and my audience, my clients, they all have come to recognize and accept my voice for what it is and it has become part of my signature. So, people will say, “Well, I can’t even tell that you have a vocal disorder.” Well, I can tell, but I’ve learned to talk in a way that they just accept that this is the way I sound, and it’s okay.

Susan: Dr. I have a couple questions that about your course of treatment and overcoming spasmodic dysphonia because, like I said, you sound absolutely beautiful. Your voice is, you know, very fluent and I can’t detect the hitch although I understand what you’re saying. You feel it like I feel with my own voice.

Do you still get Botox or you do not get Botox?

Dr. Jenkins: Currently, my last botox injection was in 2002.

Susan: Oh, my goodness! That was quite some time ago!

Dr. Jenkins: Yes.

Susan: Did you see a special speech pathologist or speech therapist to help learn techniques and different workarounds to help your voice?

Dr. Jenkins: (Laughter) You know what. Here’s where the story gets kind of interesting because I am married to a speech language pathologist.

Susan: That is ironic, isn’t it.

Dr. Jenkins: In fact, she is the one who got me in to the people I needed to see to get a correct diagnosis.

Susan: Okay. That was lucky.

Dr. Jenkins: So, I did consult with two speech language pathologists and vocal therapists at the University of Utah. Then, together with my wife, we just started to identify things that worked for me. I have to add here too, I practice a lot. I think whatever you practice, you get better at. The first several years after my diagnosis, my vocal disorder was much more noticeable, but I have gotten better at it. I want to restate here that I still, even during this interview, Susan, I’m feeling the spasms and I’m applying the strategies that I have learned. And they come so naturally to me now, that I sound fairly fluent to other people. At the end of a day of speaking, I gave a keynote at the university last night. By the time I got home, it was very noticeable. My wife and my kids will notice it more. Because with fatigue, of course, this voice of mine is very vulnerable; so, it’s one of the first things to go. Stress, fatigue, or anything like that is going to exacerbate it and cause it to be more noticeable.

Susan: You know what. I actually agree from my personal experiences dealing with voice loss that my voice is my emotional barometer. If somebody wants to know how I’m feeling, all they have to do is listen to the quality of my voice. If my voice is fluent and it sounds great, you know I’m doing pretty good; but, if it’s tight and I can’t speak and I can’t get my words out, I’m fairly upset or I’m anxious or dealing with a stressful situation.   So, absolutely, my voice is also my barometer for how I’m feeling. Who needs a mood ring when you’ve got a vocal disorder?


Dr. Jenkins: Yeah! Well, there’s some truth to that, I think. Absolutely,

Susan: It’s so funny. I mean, you have spasmodic dysphonia and I have muscle tension dysphonia, but there are so many commonalities in our experience of how we manage the voice. What is inspirational about your story and your personal journey is that you are able to manage the effects of the condition without pharmaceutical intervention – without the botox. I know just from being involved with different support groups and different organizations regarding voice is that there is an absolute panic about — what if I can’t get Botox, what if I lose my insurance, what if I develop scar tissue on the larynx, what if the Botox is no longer effective.

Dr. Jenkins: Right.

Susan: That is a real panic for a lot of people. So, I think your story is exceptionally inspirational because you do not have . . . you don’t walk around carrying that bag of worry.

Dr. Jenkins: Well, you know, we can worry all day long, and . . . here’s something that I learned as I’ve practiced professional psychology now for over two decades – anxiety is caused by exactly what you just identified, Susan, it’s the “what if” questions. But, realize that there’s a part of your mind that will not let go of those “what if” questions. You have to answer them. And if you don’t give it a good productive answer, your mind will hand you one that does not serve you well.


Susan: You’re absolutely correct. Your mind will create problems where none exists.

Dr. Jenkins: Absolutely, and we’re powerful to do this. So, here’s my suggestion on the “what ifs”, and I’ve had them. Remember this is a potential career changer for me. At least, I thought it was. So, I had to answer the “what ifs”. What if this prevents me from doing my speaking and my radio and my podcasts? All I had to do was answer it with this, “Well, I could handle that.” See how simple that is? In accepting that I could handle it, guess what – things started to get better. It’s when we get trapped into that noxious victim (did you hear the spasm right there?)

Susan: No, I didn’t actually.

Dr. Jenkins: (Laughter) I’ve gotten pretty good at it. “V’s” are hard for me, and my wife’s name is Vickie. But, I cannot initiate a sentence with that voiced consonant. Anyway, that’s just for the “gee-whiz” collection. This is the power of the mind because when you accept it, then . . . that’s why I said this is the first step — accept it! It is what it is. It could always be better and it could always be worse, but here we are. So, with what I had, I decided — okay, I’m going to move forward and do what I can; and if I sound funny, I sound funny. And, if people say, “what”, “what”, “what” all the time, I’m just going to repeat it and come back; and I’m going to use confidence and put some air support behind my voice because that’s a little hard anyway. I even did things like swimming to improve my breathing. There are all kinds of things you can do, but it starts with acceptance and then you do what you can.

When you said that we notice — those of us with vocal disorders hear others with vocal disorders. I did a little television spot a couple of years ago, I did a television spot and I got a call from a lady in – I think it was San Diego, California, who had been turned on to this television spot by her sister or something. I was talking about children and divorce – I can’t remember the whole topic, but this lady contacted me and she said, “Do you have SD?” I said, “Okay, you must have SD because who’s going to hear that other than someone who knows.” She flew out here from California and was a guest on my show – on my podcast because she was in a similar position. She was thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve got this vocal disorder. I can’t now go forward and do what I want to do”, which is similar to what I was doing. Well, she heard my television presentation and realized, “Wait a minute. This guy has SD — I can tell, and he’s still doing what I want to do.” This inspired her to get out of her own way and say, “Okay, well how can I do this instead of just being a victim about ‘oh, my gosh, I’ve got this diagnosis’.” Okay, accept that and then keep moving forward anyway.

Susan: It has been my experience . . . I don’t want to use a broad brush to paint for this next statement, but it has been my experience that a lot of people say, “well, I have this vocal condition. There’s no way I can live the life I was supposed to live or there’s no way I could live the life I was living. I’m going to give up. I’m going to accept what is less than what I deserve in life” – whether that’s employment, whether that’s a relationship, whether that’s just being recognized through the gift of intellect and your abilities, aside from your voice. Like I said, I’ve seen a lot people just give up and say, “well, I’m not capable”; and I think that is a terrible mistake to give up. For any disability to say, “well, I can’t, I have something wrong with me”. That could be a life changer for a lot of people, but I think the key message in this is just — you’ve got to keep moving on. Pick your bag up and keep walking down the street and deal with what has been given you and figure out a way to make it work. So, absolutely, not giving in to whatever is presented to us is a key factor in being successful.

Dr. Jenkins: Yes, and that was so beautifully said, Susan, because whatever that package is whether it’s spasmodic dysphonia or muscle tension dysphonia or whatever. Not just voice disorders; you could have cancer, you could have bankruptcy, you could have paralysis, you could have an amputation. We can all think of examples of people who have those packages too. What do we do, curl up in a corner as a victim or do we say, “okay, well this is my package and I’m going to carry it.” Then do whatever is required.

Susan: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, Dr. Jenkins, we’ve just hit the half hour mark. What a delightful person you are, and I thank you so much. I’m sure that the people in the Vocal Disorders will enjoy listening to every minute of what you’ve shared with us today.

Dr. Jenkins: Well, I certainly hope so. It’s such an honor to be able to speak to this issue because whether it’s a vocal disorder or anything else, I think it’s so important find ways to create liberty and freedom in new possibilities instead of getting stuck behind whatever our diagnosis is.

Susan: Absolutely agreed, doctor. I want to thank you again for your time today. I know you’re a busy man, and carving time out of your day can’t be easy, but I really truly appreciate your time and your effort with us today. And, on behalf of the website and Andrea Hardaway, who has started two websites – VocalDisorders.org and VoiceMatters.net, in honor of her mother who has spasmodic dysphonia, as well.

I’m going to end the recorded portion of our conversation, and hopefully we will reconvene at another time with another half hour portion of our discussion.

Dr. Jenkins: Wonderful! Thank you.