One thing that’s pretty common in many skilled professions is something that’s referred to as impostor syndrome. It means that a person believes that they don’t know what they’re doing or they feel like they’re somehow doing a bad job in general. You can read the Wikipedia definition:
A term referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women.
Did Wikipedia nail it, or what? Not only have I felt self-doubt over the course of my career, but in talking to different colleagues, they have also felt some self-doubt when it comes to treating clients. I believe that this comes up in speech therapy as a profession because there are a lot of different ways to treat somebody. There isn’t just one way to approach speech therapy, even when it’s the same disorder! Feeling 100% confident using every single method available to treat a variety of different clients is not realistic.
It’s normal to encounter a client with the disorder that’s new to you and feel a little overwhelmed. You might even wonder about your ability to adequately provide therapy for this client. But if you graduated with a masters in speech language pathology from an ASHA-accredited university, you are able to provide speech therapy effectively to clients with a variety of communication disorders. Here’s how:
- Go back to the literature. One of the reasons why they require speech language pathologists to complete continuing education is to stay up on the latest in treatment techniques. We must maintain a certificate of clinical competence (CCC). By going back to the literature and taking a continuing education courses about disorders, you can feel confident about learning the latest in treatment techniques. We are all a little rusty in different areas. I’m super rusty in voice therapy for sure!
- Reach out to other clinicians. If there is a student that you feel like you don’t have the first clue about a treatment plan, find a speech therapist that maybe specializes in that kind of therapy. For example, I had a voice client in the schools at one point and I felt completely out of my depth with that student. The student was under medical management and another speech pathologist was involved in the case who worked with the student in a clinical or medical setting. So I was able to reach out to them and learn a little more about what needed to be done about the student (after I got consent to share information). You can reach out to colleagues and grad school friends to answer questions for you about various different disorders and treatment techniques that you maybe need to have a refresher on. There are also several large Facebook groups about speech therapy and people are always asking questions about different disorders.
- Make a referral. If you are able to make a referral to another speech pathologist, it might be appropriate to transfer a student to another clinician. I know that’s not always possible in the school setting, especially if you’re on your own in a building, but I’ve been lucky that as a bilingual speech pathologist I’m normally going between buildings or I’m working with monolingual clinicians. If I feel like there’s a student that I can’t fully reach, I have transitioned the student to another SLP’s caseload (and vice versa).
- Open up a book or get out your old grad school notes. If you still have some of your graduate textbooks or notes you could refer to them for specifics about communication disorders that you need a refresher on. I have retained my language disorders textbook because I feel like it’s so comprehensive. It has information about virtually every language disorder! I think it’s nice to have just in case I need to refer to it. I also do still have a lot of my graduate school notes (which I’m wondering if maybe I should just toss them)! Eek, they are old now, but knowing that they’re there does make me feel like if I ever needed to refer to them I could just open up a binder!
- Remind yourself that you got this! So you might be feeling a little insecure or having some self-doubt when you encounter a challenging client but remind yourself you got this! You have a masters degree! You have experience working with a wide variety of clients (at least in graduate school) and you got this! You were trained for this! Take a deep breath, drink some water to hydrate, and then do it. I believe in you!
If you ever need a little boost morale boost, I have seen so much support from various different Facebook groups devoted to speech therapy that I think it would be beneficial for you to join one (or more) of those. Another resource are the special interest groups (SIGS) through ASHA that a lot of people find beneficial when they are working in various different settings. You got this!