The Starfish Project is a UK-based not-for-profit therapy programme which helps people who stammer or stutter to overcome their speech through the use of diaphragmatic breathing (also known as costal breathing). The programme also teaches participants to reassess negative emotions surrounding their stammering through the use of avoidance reduction therapy (see stuttering therapy).
Participants attend a three-day residential course near Hailsham in the UK during which a diaphragmatic breathing technique and non-avoidance strategies are taught. Following this initial course, participants are able to attend additional follow-up courses at the same venue without charge from the Starfish Project as often as they feel necessary. Course participants are also encouraged to make use of a list of phone contacts of other course participants and can attend free support meetings at various locations around the UK.
Anne Blight, founder of the Starfish Project, has been working for and with people who stammer for many years, first as an active volunteer with the original Association for Stammerers, then with its successor organisation The British Stammering Association. Anne Blight has been involved with stammering therapy courses for a many years. She was previously involved in the early days of McGuire Programme before starting the Starfish Project in 1998.
In 2016 the Starfish Project announced its first courses outside of the United Kingdom. The Starfish Project had been invited to start courses for people who stammer in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Courses are scheduled quarterly in Dubai with instruction in English and monthly at various cities within the GCC countries with instruction in Arabic.
Although diaphragmatic breathing may be an effective way for people who stammer to manage their condition, it should not be regarded as a cure and, while anecdotally effective, the existence of beneficial outcomes for people who stammer from diaphragmatic breathing-based therapies such as the Starfish Project is not supported by peer-reviewed research.
A similar breathing technique is used by several other stammering treatments including the programme offered by the Del Ferro Institute in Amsterdam (where the application of diaphragmatic breathing to stammering was developed) and the McGuire Programme. Whilst the fundamental breathing technique is similar in use at these different programmes the method of teaching varies greatly between them.