Among private circles, many speech paths talk quietly about how challenging being a speech path can be. It’s not the patients, clients, or students, but typically it’s the paperwork and meetings that bog people down. Plus, being a speech path is not the kind of job where you can just “phone it in.” An SLP (speech-language pathologist — in case you are new to the abbreviation) has to be present and ready to treat clients. It’s a “performance” job, similar to health, therapeutic, or teaching jobs (physical therapists, occupational therapist, nurses, doctors, teachers, etc), which means that while you are working, you have to be “on” or engaged with another person. There really are few moments where an SLP can sit and surf the internet. I think that aspect of the job can be overlooked when considering burnout. Just so I’m clear, the client or student doesn’t wear out the SLP, but being fully present for student/client/patient sessions stacked one after the other can take a toll.
I’ve learned that there are things you can do to get over burnout. Check out my list below and head over to my TeachersPayTeachers store to download my inspirational handout: Quotes about Communication: Inspiration for the Speech Pathologist.
1) Change schools or school districts — If you are feeling bummed out at work and you are school-based, it’s time to think about changing schools. There are schools out there that have toxic cultures — certainly they are in the minority, but if you are unhappy, you’ve got to switch. It’s my ninth year and I finally found a school and a district where I fit in terms of school population, student needs, caseload/workload balance, and supplies on hand. If you are serious about establishing your career for decades to come (as is necessary in most school systems due to the nature of tenure and credit for years of service), you need to be 100% sure of the fit. It’s not personal, it’s professional — keep looking for the best school for you and don’t settle.
2) Start every Monday and end every Friday with 15-30 minutes free — Easing in to the week and easing of out the week is a great way to reduce your daily stress and to help you organize yourself for the start of a week. I like to have a slower Monday morning so that I can get back into the week, remind myself of my priorities of the week (for example, which evaluations I need to get done and when), and get some planning done. The worst way to start a week or day is to just set down your purse and have to start a session. I feel crazy and stressed during those times. Also ending your Friday with a free space means that you can take that time to wrap up any loose ends with paperwork that may be outstanding or call parents for meetings coming up the next week. Having those blocked out breaks helps me feel in control and less stressed.
3) Investigate another degree or certificate program — Many speech pathologists continue earning degrees and move into management or add certifications to increase their knowledge and, depending on their setting, their pay. Some of those programs include:
- Educational leadership certificate or masters to manage speech pathologists in the educational setting. Maybe what you need to be doing is to be in charge of other speech paths!
- Board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) to work with children who have communication disorders and behavioral issues. More information at the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Certificate in Assistive Technology for SLPs wanting a deeper role with the assistive technology department in a school district. Offered at various universities including the University of Illinois at Chicago.
- Certificate in Autism for SLPs who want to dig deeper into autism and advance their careers. Offered at various universities including Johns Hopkins and Penn State.
4) Consider changing settings — If you aren’t satisfied with your job, it might be time to change settings completely. If you’ve been working in the schools, maybe you should check out area clinics, hospitals, early intervention programs, skilled nursing facilities, or home based services. Or if you have been working in the hospital setting, maybe schools should be your next focus. Investigate if a nearby college or university is hiring clinical staff or ad-hoc lecturers. The possibilities are endless.
5) Investigate additional training to enhance your skills — If you don’t feel ready to tackle a new degree or certificate, consider boosting your skills by adding a new training. I’ve heard awesome things about PROMPT and Hanen.
6) Attend a conference — Sometimes just going to a new conference is a great way to re-energize your commitment and passion about being a speech path. Investigate where the next ASHA convention is being held or, if your state has a speech association, go to theirs. Illinois has one of the largest state conferences in the country. Personally every year I want to go away to the Bilingual Therapies Symposium in July. It is always held somewhere beautiful. A girl can dream!
7) Join a speech-focused Facebook group — Facebook has enriched my life immensely. Recently, I’ve joined several groups focused on speech pathologists. The best part of the groups is knowing that we all go through similar “trials and tribulations.” Go under the “Groups” section of Facebook and search “speech.”
What other things would you suggest when you are feeling burnt out? Don’t forget to download my inspirational handout: Quotes about Communication: Inspiration for the Speech Pathologist.