Want to learn how to be a speech-language pathologist? Just follow the right college degree course, study hard, take your exams, and get your state license. Want to learn how to be a successful speech-language pathologist? Do all of the above and have the right soft skills to support every patient’s journey.
Let’s face it: some things simply can’t be taught in the classroom, especially in such a passion-driven role like a speech-language pathologist. It’s not about going through the motions, passing all your tests, and adding some credentials to your name. Individuals that need speech therapy face a mountain of challenges, from how they succeed at school to how they socialize with others. They need someone on their side who can not only help them overcome speech challenges but also recognize the impact that better speech can have on their lives.
The great majority of speech-language pathologists devote their time to whatever it takes to help their patients live a higher quality of life. That’s why these four traits underscore the true merit and value of a top-performing speech-language pathologist.
Successful speech-language pathologists don’t just focus on speech exercises but also on how any speech difficulties may impact their patients. This is what we call total care—where you care for the whole persona and not just the specific issue or symptom.
Having the ability to understand and share in someone’s emotions is one of the most traits of a speech pathologist. However, you must be able to balance this compassionate empathy by not taking their struggles on as your own emotions or blurring the line between you and another person.
Having compassionate empathy demonstrates high emotional intelligence, where you can effectively respond to a situation without becoming overwhelmed or feeling like you have to “fix” something. You have a sincere desire to help your patients succeed. Without sensitivity to others’ needs, desires, emotional triggers, and other problems, success in treating and bonding with patients can be limited.
Understanding your patients and your caseload is crucial to success as a speech-language pathologist. Remember, you are the leader in the provider/patient relationship. Your patients look to you to guide each session and need to be able to trust you can successfully direct them. You should be a skilled teacher and have at least a medium grasp on how to teach someone to perform a task correctly, knowing that not every client will learn the same things in the same ways. Guiding them through steps, whether verbal or physical (such as swallowing), is essential.
A high-performing speech-language pathologist should be able to communicate clearly with a variety of individuals. This applies not only to your patients but also to caretakers, hospitals, PCPs, school personnel (if your patient is a child), and other providers.
Good communication also requires you to be a good listener. If you’re able to listen carefully to the needs and wants of your clients and their caretakers, you can avoid potential issues that come from miscommunications.
Speech-language pathology is rooted in science (both biological and social). Successful speech therapists have an affinity for science, anatomy, and language. It requires ongoing professional development and education as new findings and advancements are discovered. Even when you’re no longer in a classroom setting, science will continue to shape your career.
You can also share your love for science with your clients. Help them see the science behind your sessions together. Make it relatable so they can get more from your time together (and even enjoy it!).
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and speech difficulties can’t be solved in one session. In fact, speech-language pathologists won’t know an “end” date to working with their clients because everyone progresses at different rates. They also don’t always know what tools or tricks they’ll need to pull out of their hat.
That’s why you need to be able to think on your feet. A high-performing speech-language pathologist will always have things on hand—office supplies, spare pens, pads of paper—that you may not need but could come in handy. Improvisation and the ability to adjust plans or care at a moment’s notice are wonderful skills to have. Adapt to the situation rather than assuming a situation will adapt to you and your needs.
You also need to be able to see your cases through to the end. Sometimes, your caseload or clients may be difficult, but having the grit to stick it out and progress to the other side is a highly desired trait. You can’t always tell which clients will bring the most difficulties or challenges until after you start working together. Dropping a client halfway through a task is never a good start, as it can be discouraging for them to find another provider and start the process over.
Knowing how to proceed in every situation will always be rewarded, no matter the challenges.
So, do you have any of these qualities of a good speech pathologist? If so, know that your career looks good on you!