Red, Yellow, Green

January 13, 2022
Margaret Miller, M.A., CCC-SLP
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Basiic Maill iicon

It’s Therapy Thursday!

Today we’re talking about a simple tool to track safety in our clients' bodies and gauge their readiness for new challenges: the traffic light. Chaya Goldstein introduced this concept to the AIS staff and we’ve all grown to love it!

In stuttering therapy, we often work on desensitization - reducing fear of stuttering by helping clients get exposure to feared situations. Desensitization is a delicate business. The key is that we want clients to have good, safe experiences, just at the edge of their comfort zone, so they learn the danger is not so fearsome, and the comfort zone gradually becomes bigger. But how do we know we’re not pushing too fast?

That’s where the traffic light comes in. Red means “no way, I’m not ready for that.” Green means “I can totally do that!” And yellow means “maybe, but it feels pretty scary.” Numerical rating scales can also work, but we’ve found that the simplicity of the traffic light makes it very easy to communicate about levels of fear.

How to do it:

Introduce your client to the traffic light concept. When proposing desensitization challenges, always ask for a traffic light rating. Desensitization can start with green-light activities! Yellow-light activities are okay too, used with caution when a client is excited for a challenge. When working toward a yellow-light challenge, provide plenty of support, examining the feelings that arise and reinforcing the bravery it takes to face one’s fears.

Red-light activities are not recommended. If we push a client to engage in a challenge that is overwhelming, they are likely to have a negative experience that may actually increase their fear of the activity - the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. We all face red light situations sometimes - some simply can't be avoided - but yellow light is the target for desensitization and therapeutic change.


The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA, and Los Angeles, CA, and services are also available online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.

Photo by TsvetoslavHristov on Unsplash

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