Peruse any Speech-Language Pathologist professional group or social media account and you will likely see an SLP expressing frustration about one of many issues currently plaguing the profession. (yes, I said “plaguing”!) It’s difficult to know if these issues have always been present but have only recently been given a voice by social media platforms or if the majority of these have only recently become thorns in the sides of practicing SLPs. The issues range from therapy rooms to compensation and everything in-between. However, one thing is constant in all of the topics: Respect. Or, rather, the lack of respect felt by SLPs as a result of the various issues they come in contact with. It’s disheartening, to say the least. So, in an attempt to simply educate, I have compiled a list of topics/items that make SLPs feel respected and understood.
R – Requirements for SLPs:
Most people do not realize the requirements for SLPs to practice. They don’t understand that we must have a master’s degree, pass comprehensive examinations, pass the praxis, present and defend a thesis, spend a year as a clinical fellow, maintain professional development hours, and maintain the ethics of the profession. (Which many of these areas/issues listed here make difficult to do) I do not feel respected when those not trained in Speech-Language Pathology assume that they can conduct therapy sessions, make eligibility decisions, “know better” than the SLP, and much more. Please respect the profession that I have chosen and trained extensively for.
E – Effective Therapy:
A large part of my training is learning effective therapy techniques. Please do not question my “techniques” without cause. (Hint: Cause would be clients not making progress.) I may choose to utilize a book, movement, specific therapy tools, or even a “game”. If you do not take the time to talk to me about what I am targeting and the evidence behind my approach, do not judge my approach. I feel respected when others are interested in how I target goals and the materials I utilize and create to engage my clients and help them acquire skills.
S – Speech Teacher:
Two words with so much involved. This is not to start the “don’t call me the speech teacher” debate… it really isn’t. It’s to discuss what misinformation is given by calling a Speech-Language Pathologist a “Speech Teacher”. First, you remove the “Language” piece. An enormous amount of what I do with clients is address their receptive, expressive, and pragmatic language skills. By calling us “speech teacher” the perception of us working only with speech (articulation) goals is made. Parents, teachers, school/clinic staff, and others become confused about why we are working with a client who “speaks just fine”. By using “Speech-Language” our role is more accurately described. By calling us “speech teacher” we have swapped “pathologist” (or “therapist” if appropriate) out for “teacher”. Yes, we do teach but there is much more that we do. This also can lead to SLPs being required to complete “teacher” requirements and paperwork that is unnecessary to our profession. This may include lesson plans, parent-teacher conferences (we already hold these annually, they’re called IEP meetings), maintaining bulletin boards, attending teacher-specific trainings, and more. And, hey, you wouldn’t call other therapists the “Physical Teacher” or “Occupational Teacher”, would you? Respect our specialty by calling us “Speech-Language Pathologists”.
P – Plan time, duty, and everything in-between:
Along similar lines as calling us “Speech-Language Pathologists”, please respect our time. About half of our job is therapy, the other half involves paperwork, billing, parent meetings, and more. When you take an hour of our time each day, to do bus duty or lunch duty, you are not respecting our time and job responsibilities. I understand that some SLPs truly don’t mind having duty but as an SLP who has had morning and lunch duty as well as working in districts that did not require me to have a duty, I feel more respected when I do not have a duty. My communication with staff and parents has increased in those districts and I am able to more quickly bill for services. Because my services are billable, having time to complete that billing is an incredibly important source of income for the district. It is important that I have “Plan Time” (the time typically afforded to teachers when their students are at recess and specials) and am limited or without an assigned duty to allow me to best serve my clients and staff. The reality is, you do not NEED to have the SLP have duty. I feel respected when my time is respected.
E – Evidence-Based Practice:
A huge part of an SLP’s job is to provide evidence-based practice. This is what guides how we provide therapy. We look toward the evidence. This is important for others to understand because there is a “method to our madness” in therapy sessions. As an example, this why we bring up caseload sizes. It’s not to whine about managing 60+ students, it’s because “larger caseloads appear to minimize opportunities for individualized intervention. Caseload size may lead to a shift from individual to group treatment, as well as an increase in group size. (Schooling, 2000) Communication skills, in particular, appear to be positively influenced by small treatment group size; students tend to verbalize and/or use gestures to communicate more in small-group settings. In addition, students on smaller caseloads are more likely to make measurable progress on functional communication measures than those on large caseloads (Schooling, 2000, 2003).” SLPs love EBP, and sometimes we hate it, but we abide by it. We feel respected when you understand that we consult evidence to provide the best therapy to our clients.
C – Compensation
This is one of the top topics discussed by SLPs and, I believe, one of the main ways that SLPs feel disrespected. If you have read this post, you now know what is involved in being a Speech-Language Pathologist. Compensation varies incredibly across the country (US). SLPs are paid on a teacher’s pay scale at most districts. Others may receive stipends, be paid hourly, or paid on a separate scale. Here are the facts to consider when looking into compensation levels that are fair: SLPs hold a master’s degree – they should never be paid less than the master’s degree level of any pay scale. Additionally, SLP master’s degree programs require about 15-30+ more credit hours than a typical teaching master’s degree. Therefore, when considering SLP compensation, it would be appropriate to award SLPs the additional hours of study they have completed (it is appropriate to request transcripts to demonstrate the amount of hours completed). SLPs must maintain state board of health licensure, state department of education certification, and typically also maintain national certification through ASHA. These fees and professional development requirements easily cost $500-$1000/year. SLPs should be fairly compensated for these accomplishments and requirements. For example, if a district provides compensation to teachers who achieve national board certification, the same should be afforded to SLPs with their CCCs through ASHA. I have felt most respected in the area of compensation by my current district who has separate SLP/OT/PT/Psych pay scales, stipends for CCC’s, and stipends for being a difficult position to fill in the state. I feel that the district adequately recognizes the amount of out-of-pocket money we spend to maintain our professional licensure. Respect our positions with adequate and fair compensation.
T: Therapy Rooms:
Another one of the most widely discussed topics by SLPs is the space they have been provided to conduct therapy sessions. I have had everything from a full-sized classroom (due to low enrollment) to a hallway/auditorium/sensory room. What I can tell you is that I don’t require much space, but I feel respected when I am provided with a space that is quiet, private, and conducive to learning. Places that are not conducive to learning include hallways, closets, bathrooms, places being used by many individuals, and places without adequate seating/privacy. What administrators need to understand is that a therapy room is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It is a requirement that we can hold private conversations regarding diagnoses and treatment, call a parent, and keep confidential records safe. We require adequate spaces to provide therapy that is effective and ethical. If an administrator would not be okay with conducting a parent meeting in the SLP’s therapy room, it should not be a therapy room. We feel respected when our students can participate in therapy sessions in adequate spaces. It doesn’t hurt when we have a window or the ability to stretch our arms out and not touch the sides of our office.
It’s fairly easy to make an SLP feel respected. So why do so many SLPs feel like they are undervalued and disrespected in their current position? It is likely a culmination of many factors. Budgets, misinformation, priorities, and history all play a part. What can SLPs do to bring about change? Start with the area that impacts you and/or your clients the most. Do research, ask around, and compile ideas and information for decision-makers. This could be your administrator or district-level personnel. And what can others do to help their beloved SLPs feel more respected? Follow some of the R-E-S-P-E-C-T advice listed here, become knowledgeable, and help them to help clients! After all, that’s who it’s really all about… clients!
Have a thought? Share it in the comments below!