The feeling of being conferred with a Master’s degree after navigating and ultimately completing the rigorous and challenging endeavor that is graduate school, is truly ineffable. At the culmination of graduate school, one is finally bestowed the title of speech-language pathologist, an altruistic and rewarding profession where one can positively impact the lives of numerous individuals by giving them a means of effective communication. However, among the masses, we are commonly referred to as “speech therapists.” While many SLPs are quick to correct, I personally do not mind being referred to as a therapist. Our profession is so multifaceted; we are required to understand the etiology of a myriad of diseases/disorders and to stay abreast of the most efficacious treatment approaches available to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. And while our title does not explicitly state therapist, I don’t think it is erroneous to assume that therapy is a crucial component of our profession.
There are a plethora of studies and anecdotal accounts that support incorporating therapeutic/counseling techniques into our therapy sessions to optimize success. For example, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach directed at changing one’s negative perceptions, is postulated to help stutterers. Additionally, I believe it behooves a therapist to understand the grieving process. When dealing with individuals who have suffered strokes, TBIs, or have been diagnosed with a neurodenegerative disease (e.g. Parkinsons), we have to recognize that they are experiencing a loss. A loss of confidence, a loss of prior abilities, a loss of feelings of competency, and even in some cases, a loss of self. By having an individual assess and verbalize their feelings, a “therapist” can help mitigate any misgivings an individual may have about themselves, offering coping strategies, and ultimately help the client achieve acceptance of their newfound situation.
As SLPs, we are able to teach compensatory strategies to help individuals communicate when a previous method no longer proves effective. We are able to help correct habitual erroneous speech patterns, by teaching correct placement and manner of speech. And although not specifically delineated in our job description, we are able to help people, just by listening and occasionally being a shoulder to cry on. Thus far in my profession, I have found that some of my most rewarding sessions, are when a client feels comfortable enough to open up with me and express their thoughts and feelings. By understanding the impact that a communicative disorder can have on an individual, I am able to view the patient as a whole, rather than just define them and plan a course of treatment based solely on their diagnosis. Breaking down walls has proved invaluable to me, as it allows me to delve into the mind of a patient, and for a brief moment in time, put myself in their shoes. By doing this, I am able to plan a individualized treatment plan, one that will produce the most beneficial results for the client in question.
So while “therapist/counselor” isn’t explicitly listed in our credentials, I believe employing therapeutic techniques, such as listening, offering coping mechanisms, and helping an individual put things into perspective when everything appears catastrophic, is part of our duty as a health care professional and is essential with regards to improving the quality of our patients lives.
Listed below are some articles detailing how to incorporate therapeutic techniques into speech sessions.
Brianna Fonti, M.A., CF-SLP, TSSLD