I love May for a variety of reasons –the sound of birds chirping in the morning, the vision of beautiful gardens blooming with color, anticipation of Mother’s Day, my younger son’s birthday, and last but certainly not least ASHA’s annual Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) campaign. This year’s theme “Building Connections” couldn’t be more appropriate. With the rise of social media replacing real-life interaction, combined with the isolation caused by the COVID- 19 pandemic, more and more people are feeling disconnected, frustrated, depressed, and anxious.
Now I know you are well aware that facing these emotions having a communication or hearing disorder exponentially adds an even greater burden. Beginning the “journey” of navigating medical, therapeutic, and school placement options is not an easy one. The “process” is a complicated and overwhelming one, filled with many obstacles – namely “criteria and eligibility” guidelines, insurance caps, highly inefficient procedures intended to “slow the process”, lack of adequate resources, and most heartbreaking of all - jaded professionals. Burnout and exhaustion is most often the sad result of all the obstacles, but nonetheless, never justified when it negatively impacts patient care. It leaves those on the receiving end of the process feeling even more lonely, angered, and discouraged, which is not what we want for our clients. It shifts their perspective so much so, that when the right professional should “enter the scene”; they are often not in the mindset to be able to enter the therapeutic process with a spirit of trust and hopefulness that this necessary for success.
In consideration of this month’s BHSM theme “Building Connections”, I challenge every professional out there to break free of this “process” that inevitably corrodes the very essence of why the vast majority of Speech-Language Pathologists decided to enter the field.
Where do we begin as a professional?
Make a daily “gratitude list”. I have a dear friend who reminds me EVERY single time we speak to “find the joy”. Through my own personal journey, I am slowly learning that GRATITUDE BRINGS JOY. We cannot heal others without knowing the true meaning of JOY. So in the morning, write down 2 or 3 things that you are thankful for. I also encourage you to look closely at your professional work, because somewhere underneath all of the chaos of redundant clinical reviews, deadlines, insane amounts of paperwork, shortage of time, etc., I KNOW there is something there that keeps you going! Find it and hold it onto it tightly! At your worst moment of the day, take the list out and read it. PAUSE. Close your eyes. THINK and FEEL in your heart why you are here at that very moment…It can be something as simple as sharing a smile or a warm greeting from a child, experiencing that same child speaking his first word after months of intervention, or maybe just being lucky enough to work with colleagues that are truly like family…there is no right or wrong answer.
Practice mindfulness to build on your own self-awareness. This is the only way to improve as a clinician – and quite frankly as a human being. Pay attention to things happening around you and use this information to evaluate how it makes you feel. Make adjustments in your responses (or procedures in treatment) and really take note of how these subtle changes impact outcomes and your ability to connect on a deeper level with your client. This will build the trust that is needed to advance the therapeutic process.
Make an effort to really listen ACTIVELY to your clients. There is a difference between really “being heard” and simply listening without the message truly resonating. Clients always know when they are not being heard. In order to make better connections with our clients, we need to practice and hone this skill.
The same applies to making professional connections. Take the time to collaborate with another member of your client’s medical, therapy, or school-based team to foster a true coordinated care model, which evidence shows is most effective. These connections will take your treatment to a whole new level!
Make an attempt to connect on a broader scale. Community outreach is a great way to start. Provide resources and education via participation in community events, social media campaigns, etc. Teaching others about disabilities will bring understanding and tolerance. As an SLP you have a crucial role in this process.
Spread your wings and tap into your professional affiliations to keep yourself current and connected. Being part of something “bigger than yourself” is often the best way to add meaning to our lives. It empowers and inspires you to be better, and fosters a sense of professional community that we all need to thrive. ASHA, your state professional speech-language-hearing association, and professional organizations related to specific areas of specialization are all great ways to build lasting professional connections.
So are you inspired yet? I hope so… Now get out there and do it! Be the spark to ignite a spirit of connection and purpose! I promise it will make all the difference. ;)
Happy Better Hearing and Speech Month!
Lisa Jiannetto-Surrusco, MA, CCC-SLP is the owner and director of Reach for the Stars, LLC, a pediatric practice that specializes in speech, language, and feeding disorders, located in Cranford, NJ. She provides direct therapy and evaluation services and also provides clinical consultative services within the NYC Metropolitan Area.