Speech-Language Pathology

What is a speech therapist/speech-language pathologist (SLP)?

I’m almost at a loss when I try to describe this to the average person. My husband still has absolutely no clue what I do all day long. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’ll be doing when I go to work. I mean, I could be seeing someone in a dining room training them on how to use compensatory safe swallowing strategies, OR I could be heard “singing” loudly with a patient. On the other hand, I might be doing word retrieval tasks with a patient who has recently had a stroke OR trying to build the attention of a patient who has recently experienced a traumatic brain injury.

I’ll start from the beginning.

An SLP is a professional who evaluates and treats cognition, communication, and swallowing disorders. This is a pretty broad area as demonstrated with how I bombarded you above. Some of the areas SLPs cover include:

Speech-such as articulation or the way the sounds come out. This can also include rate of speech, intonation, and stress (emphasis).

Fluency-most often thought of a working with people who stutter although this isn’t all inclusive.

Language- the understanding of and expression, including the rules for how sounds can be put together, how words are ordered, the parts that make up a word, what the words mean, and the rules governing how we use it all socially.

Voice-the “source” or phonation behind speech which includes the process of respiration.

Cognition-attention, memory, problem solving, executive functioning, visiospatial skills, and more.

Swallowing-the whole process of moving food off of the fork and getting it into the stomach. Sometimes it can be just plain hard to eat while for other people the food/liquids might be going places where it’s not supposed to be, such as the lungs.

Sometimes it’s confusing why someone called a “speech therapist” addresses cognition, and the easiest way for me to explain it is that we all think in terms of language, and we can’t use language without thinking. It’s even more confusing when swallowing is added to the mix. The best way I can explain that one is that a lot of the same muscles, parts of the body, and parts of the brain are involved as communication.

A lifelong process
Because we eat, think, and communicate at all times in our lives, SLPs work across the lifespan.

Where we work:
Schools
Hospitals
Private practices
Home health
Universities
Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), independent living and assisted living facilities (ILF, ALF respectively)

I’m not technically a “traveler” but I serve one medium to larger SNF and its attached ILF and ALF as well as two smaller, more rural nursing homes. Therefore, my typical patient is geriatric or elderly, but not always as I’ll see any patients who need “skilled nursing care”. Since I work for a therapy company, it’s also not uncommon to see me subbing in other buildings that contract through my company. Therefore, I occasionally work in a long term acute care hospital (LTAC).

Teaming
Multi-disciplinary teamwork occurs daily. I work with nurses, dieticians, doctors, and occupational and physical therapists to name a few. However, a school-based SLP might collaborate with paraprofessionals, the general and special education teacher, or an OT as well. Of course, we all work closely with families!

Common diseases/disorders that result in me seeing a patient:
Traumatic brain injury
COPD and other respiratory diseases
Tracheostomy
Head/throat cancer
Stuttering
Stroke
Parkinson’s disease
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Alzheimer’s or other dementias
Multiple Sclerosis
Other degenerative diseases
& many others
Or in some cases, we just don’t know what’s causing the difficulties, only that they are present.

SLPs practicing in other settings such as with pediatrics see their patients/clients as a result of the same or many different causes.

Other caveats
Pretty much everything I described has a more difficult and fancy way of saying it, which I’ll probably use of out habit throughout the course of my blogs. You’ll have to either look it up or call me out on it with a question. I really don’t mind them by the way (questions, that is!); it proves someone read what I wrote!

SLPs have good and bad days like everyone else. There are days I come home and go, “Ahhhhh!” while other days I come home feeling fulfilled and satisfied.

I am paid hourly and have productivity standards. Meaning, I work as long as I have patients to see with little dilly-dallying in between. Therefore, I could work a three hour day or a 12-hour day depending on how many people have speech needs at any given point in time. I stay really busy as I mentioned helping out at other facilities, and I don’t mind having a short day/week every now and then.

SLPs typically have a master’s degree. In addition, there are speech-language pathology assistants.

Now that I’ve given you an introduction, I hope everyone will be ready when I bust of future posts on:
Why I think they’re beautiful and love working with the elderly

Graduation 2My educational background/prep in SLP

Continuing education trips and my excitement over new nerdy certifications in the field

Rants about productivity, reimbursement, & winter travel

My appreciation for people that are just plain COMPETENT/good at what they do

Related book:
One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing by Diane Ackerman.

I read this in 2013. This book told the story of author, Paul West, and his author wife Diane Ackerman as he recovered from a severe stroke. Paul’s stroke resulted in severe aphasia, or language disorder, as well as difficulties swallowing.

As an SLP, I found parts of the story fascinating. Many descriptions seemed spot on and were told in layman’s terms which I really felt benefited the field of SLP and those with acquired language disorders. However, while some parts of Ackerman’s writing were so readable, other parts were excessively flowery, abstract, and probably lost on the average reader. At times, I felt like she was using big words and a particular style to appear fancy and intelligent rather than because they actually best described the intended message. SLPs are always concerned about message success!

It was also not clear to me how she felt about SLPs. It was clear that she advocated a person-centered approach to therapy (which we all strive for). However, she seemed to come down on the fact that Paul’s SLPs targeted everyday functional language and didn’t address his artistic side.

I’m going to add a disclaimer here and say that I have not researched this case/story in the least. I was bothered by some of the interpretations made and medical reasoning or lack thereof that seemed to occur at times.