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What's in a name? - The Role of the Speech Language Pathologist

What is a speech language pathologist?

A speech language pathologist (also nicknamed SLP) or speech therapist, is an individual who focuses on rehabilitation of speech and language, as well as cognition and swallowing. This is a broad scope of practice that can include many domains; articulation of speech sounds, the voice, understanding of language, grammatical formulation of spoken or written language, fluency of speech, pragmatic language/social skills, cognition (attention, memory, formulating thoughts etc.), swallowing function, the use of Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) for communciation assistance, accent modification, transgender voice modification...the list goes on! Some speech pathologists focus on working just with children- perhaps in an early intervention home setting, school setting, or private practice. Some work just with adults, in private practice, hospital (ICU, acute, subacute, inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient, long term care facilities or skilled nursing facilities).

Voice is included in the umbrella under “speech”. You may also come across the terms voice therapist, or voice clinician. This simply means that the speech language pathologist is specialized in the area of treating voice disorders.

How do I find a Speech Language Pathologist?

If you are looking for a speech language pathologist either for you or for a loved one the process can be daunting. You are most likely already overwhelmed by the changes in your or your loved one’s speech. You can ask your treating neurologist, ENT/otolaryngologist, or other relevant medical provider for a referral to a local SLP provider. You can google listings for private practices, outpatient rehabilitation centers or skilled nursing facilities.

What should I look for when selecting an SLP?

It is first important to find the SLP that is specialized in the area that you need! If you come across a private practice SLP in your area, that’s great, but if they treat 90% children and you are looking for a need for yourself or an adult loved one, that may not be the best place to seek services. It is important to find the SLP that is specialized in the area that you need! An SLP that works primarily in a rehabilitation center most likely does not specialize highly in voice. Sure, they may know about voice, know the foundations of voice treatment, but certainly will not have the same knowledge as a specialized voice clinician who only (or mostly) does voice, has gone to specialized trainings and voice-focused conferences and primarily does this type of work. Vice versa for seeking services for aphasia - you will want to seek someone with a background in neurogenic/neurological rehabilitation to get the best care! If you find a provider who has also done research or presentations on the area(s) that he/she treats, even better!

It is also important to have a good personal connection. By that I mean, find someone who you are comfortable with! This is SO important and imperative to the process in order to make progress! If you or your loved one does not connect with the SLP or you do not feel that he/she is treating the individual as a person first (not just a disorder first) go and seek another SLP. Research has shown that if the patient does not trust or believe in the full competence of his or her therapist he/she will not learn or make as much progress with them. In my opinion, a qualified SLP will work with the patient on his or her goals, will include the patient/client as an equal part in the process, will continually check in, will be his/her advocate, supporter, ally, and teacher. If an SLP is throwing worksheets at you, are you going to be engaged in that process? Will you be motivated to do the worksheet homework they give you? Most likely not. If the SLP practices conversations with you, practices that speech that you will have to give at a wedding in two weeks, targets sentences that you say all the time that are difficult, or practices phone calls, those are tasks that will have a direct translation on your day to day speech, give you real tools to navigate real life situations, and will be much more meaningful.

Find the SLP who will take time with you to explain each task, to explain why you are doing each task, to ask you if you like or find benefit from that task, to ask you what your goals are, and to assess progress from not only his/her perspective but from your perspective. After all, these are truly the goals, aren’t they?

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