As a therapist, I always wonder what the therapy experience is from the other side of the table (or floor). I often wonder what it means to our clients to have therapy. While I know it’s usually fun-that is easy to tell, but I wonder; Do our pediatric clients find it powerful to learn to find their voice? Do they find it difficult to know that there is something they need to work on? Not many of our kids can articulate this, but I asked a dear friend, who is an adult now but received speech therapy in her teen years.
Eleven years ago, I met Naudia as she walked out of her high school English classroom in tears. I was the school-based school speech pathologist and an empathic and caring teacher reached out to me and asked if I could help a student who had a stutter. Naudia was new to the school and new to the country. As we know, high school is rough and some of the other students had a negative reaction to her stutter. We worked closely that year. We worked on techniques to enhance her fluency. We practiced out of the school, practiced on the phone and got her ready to interview for some babysitting jobs, and most importantly worked on acceptance. That year had a profound impact on me. It made me think deeply about communication and the barriers that are presented to someone who does not communicate in an expected way. I like to think that Naudia’s therapy experience was as positive as mine, but I never actually asked her. We have maintained a close friendship throughout the years. She is now an accomplished, resilient, and impressive young woman that I am proud to know. Recently, I asked her some questions about her therapy experience to get an idea of what is like on the other side of the table. And can I do better?
1.Tell us a little about what led you to speech therapy.
I wanted to learn different techniques to reduce the severity and frequency of my stutter.
2.What did you find most challenging about your experience?
My greatest challenge with speech therapy was becoming comfortable with unpacking my fear and anxiety about stuttering and challenging myself to try new fluency techniques.
3.What did you find most rewarding (if any)?
I learned how to find and maintain confidence in everyday conversations and public speaking despite the ebb and flow of my stutter.
4.Did you feel open enough with your therapist to communicate your successes, fears, struggles?
Communicating successes was easy, however, it took a few sessions for me to become comfortable to communicate fears and struggles with my therapist. Once this happened, my therapy sessions became more exploratory, fun and productive.
5. What do you wish your therapist knew?
I went into speech therapy thinking that only I knew what it felt like to be a person who stutter. I was surprised and relieved to realize that my therapist did have a great understanding of what it felt like and was also able to coach me in a way to help make deeper connections between my stutter and certain behaviors.
6. Overall did you find speech therapy a positive or negative experience?
I found speech therapy to be an overall positive experience. I learned many tools in speech therapy that I use in everyday communication and public speaking. It is very empowering to have these tools at my disposal.
7.What advice can you give parents or children about what to expect from the therapy process?
You will get as much as you put into it. Be honest with yourself and your therapist about your feelings, what works best for you, and be patient with yourself as you navigate fluency techniques.
Having Naudia’s perspective on her experiences in speech therapy has helped me to understand the client-side of the therapeutic process. As therapists and parents, it’s imperative to get our children’s perspective and make sure that therapy is working for them. I have found that when asked, even the youngest children can articulate their feelings about speech therapy (even if it might differ from my perspective). It is important for clients, parents, and therapists to maintain open communication about what speech therapy is, its benefits, and what to expect from the process.