Have you ever been in a medical situation that was so confusing or frustrating, you didn't know where to begin? If you answered with an affirmative, then you are not alone. Scheduling conflicts, insurance issues, overburdened staff, and medical jargon can get in the way of proper medical attention. Unfortunately, many of the clients with whom I work have been in situations that have left them confused, aggravated, or just in worse shape than before they sought medical attention for their ailments. There are several instances that come to mind, but what is happening more and more is clients who clearly need therapy services are not being referred to the appropriate specialists. It is safe to say there has always been an air of mystery surrounding what people in my profession (Speech-Language Pathologists) actually do.
Do we help people who stutter? Yes. Do we help remediate lisps and r sounds? Yes, we do that, too. Do we help children develop language that is appropriate for their age range? Indeed. Do we help people to swallow? Definitely.
It makes sense that people would be confused about what SLPs actually do, and I am here to try and clear that up for you!
With all of those seemingly unrelated things I mentioned above, it is no wonder the general public and medical professionals alike are unsure of what we SLPs actually do. The way I usually explain it to people is as follows: Imagine a picture frame around the upper part of the body, from just above the lungs to the top of the head. That is our area!Starting from the top and working our way down, we can help people with thinking and cognition, listening and understanding, reading, speaking, chewing, and swallowing, and anything else that generally falls in that area. We work with people of all ages, from newborns to centenarians, in all settings. The term "Speech-Language Pathologist" is somewhat of a misnomer, and including all of our specialties into one title would end up being too long and maybe even more confusing than our current title.
In addition to helping clients by treating all of the areas I mentioned earlier, a knowledgeable and dedicated SLP will help her clients navigate the tricky medical system by making phone calls to PCPs and specialists so that clients can receive necessary services promptly and effectively. The reason we are so busy is because in addition to actually working with our clients in various settings (school, hospital, skilled nursing facility, private practice, etc.), we are doing equal amounts of "behind the scenes" work spreading the word about the importance of what we do to help people.
There have been so many times when I have seen a private client, sometimes even several months after a stroke or brain injury, and have been told by family members that it was the first time the client has actually received services from an SLP. It is always heartbreaking to hear such news, especially thinking about how much improvement the client could have made in the time period since being hospitalized. We always hit the ground running and work hard toward goals set by the client, family, and myself. I am a firm believer that it is never too late to begin effective therapy, even if it has been years since the problem was first noted.
I remain optimistic that in the very near future, SLPs will strive to be better advocates for their clients by taking time out of a busy schedule and going the extra mile by calling clients' family members, physicians, and caregivers to obtain or give additional information that could help with therapeutic outcomes. We all get caught up in doing hundreds of tasks per day to provide and document the care we give to our clients, but I think it is realistic to set aside a few minutes a day to look at the bigger picture and determine which clients need us to be their advocates.
It will take more than just a few SLPs doing the right thing to make these changes come about, but it is a good start. Feel free to share this with anyone who might find it helpful, and know that you can always drop Fast Track Speech Therapy, PLLC a line for some advice if you can relate to this post and are unsure of where to turn.