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Speech 101: Setting Yourself Up for Success

Posted by Mandi Wilhelm, M.A. CCC-SLP on

Hands in the air if you like hearing how other SLPs stay on top of their game from day-to-day? I do! Sadly I don't get to do this enough. Like many of the rest of you, I'm often a lone ranger SLP but I love it when we get a chance to work together (or sometimes even reading other SLP's notes gives me a glimpse into how they are dealing with a specific patient or caseload). 

If you've been doing this for a while and just need some solidarity, I feel you, some days are sooo hard. If you're new to speech language pathology and feeling overwhelmed, know that we have all been there and it gets better. If you're still studying to become an SLP, don't worry, we all learn as we grow in this profession, and I hope the grumblings or mistakes of more experienced SLPs don't scare you away. This is an awesome profession and we can truly make a difference for our patients. So, take a deep breath and let's think about ways we can set ourselves up for success on a daily basis (from an experienced SLP). 

1. The Mental and Emotional Game:

A- Therapy Mantra

The most taxing part of our job is often the mental and emotional energy it takes to do this job well. We are cheerleaders, motivators, experts, liaisons, advocates, counselors, and educators all wrapped into one. If you don't have a therapy mantra, you need one.

Mine is: "What can I do to move the needle forward (toward their goals) for this patient today?"

This is literally the question I ask myself over and over throughout the day. It may not make sense to anyone else but me, but I want whatever I'm doing TODAY to be meaningful enough to inch forward in progress, so I remind myself of this constantly. 

B- Dealing with Negative Nellies

You will most definitely experience negative coworkers and negative patients/ families. The best thing you can do is keep a smile on your face and remember that usually a negative person is suffering. If it's a coworker, just let it go (easier said than done, I know). I can admit I have dealt poorly with negative coworkers in the past, and I approached the negativity with far too much ego. Really, negativity should've just rolled off my shoulders (and now it would), but it's so hard to know this when you're new. If you're new, please listen to my advice: LET THE NEGATIVITY ROLL OFF YOUR SHOULDERS. 

With negative patients, I try to have a more sympathetic approach. We see people on their very worst days, and sometimes their very LAST days. Patients must process many emotions when losing skills, independence and in many cases facing terminal diagnoses. DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. When you meet truly hateful abusive people, do your best to see their sadness and offer to help. (Sometimes this means taking off the SLP cap and going down the hall to fill an ice pitcher, grab an extra blanket, etc). If your patient's needs are met and they still continue abusive behavior, then you should consider walking away from that situation. Many times, my grouchiest patients have become my favorites over time. Decide whether you're dealing with a sad grouchy patient or a downright abusive patient and address their needs accordingly. Occasionally there is nothing you can do. Many times, listening and offering to meet basic needs before expecting patients to jump right into therapy can be helpful. Remember: It's not about you, it's about THEM. Their life. Their decisions. Their therapy. 

C- Self Care

We all know the things we need to be doing outside of work to help us stay mentally and emotionally (and physically) healthy: exercising, eating right, sleeping well, etc. Within the work day, it's easy to get caught up in go-go-going that we forget even basic things for ourselves (hello, I know I've gone an entire day without a restroom break accidentally). We can't keep up this way, and I'm convinced not looking out for ourselves is a major contributor to burnout. No one told me I couldn't use the restroom, I did that to myself. No one forces us to forgo lunch, we do that to ourselves. Take your lunch break. Use the restroom when you need to. Step outside for fresh air (or do treatment out there, usually it's a welcome distraction for the patient as well). SO once your basic needs are what? Remind yourself how well you're doing. Celebrate the wins. Think about positive things. For years I have carried around a small stack of my favorite assessments, and often, I have slipped in a favorite quote, reminder or scripture for self-motivation. 

Maybe a reminder to breathe deeply. Maybe a picture of a loved one. Find something you can use to boost your own energy and focus. 

If we're telling secrets, I sometimes use materialistic external motivators as well: I'm all about a new purple pen for data tracking, a colorful shade of nail polish or a brightly colored shirt. Guess what.. writing in purple make me happy! Guess what my patients deserve... a happy therapist!

2. The Physical Game: Organization and Strategy

I could go on and on about organization. I wish I was more organized, and in some aspects of my life I'm very organized. In therapy, I can easily accumulate a huge stack of papers and carry them around aimlessly. So I try to be mindful of what I'm taking with me. 

I approach each day with a strategy. First I write out all the goals I'm going to target for each of my patients. This takes a little time, but I find I'm much more efficient to have the information in front of me than to be shuffling through evaluations, clicking through online systems or looking these things up one patient at a time. If I stop between each patient, a 2 minute job might turn into a longer break than I want. Most SNF-based SLPs I know take data on their daily schedule (I have always done this also). I recently decided I wanted to see my goals in more complete form and I want to have enough space for taking data, so I created THIS data tracker. It's working well for me, click here to view.

Productivity: It's become a bad word in the therapy world, but shouldn't intimidate you. Your employer is concerned with billable time, I get it, YOU are concerned with providing services to your patients. Be as efficient as you can, and meet your patient's needs. I find the more prepared I am at the start of the day to see ANY patient next, the more efficient I can be. This means knowing my materials, having some that I love on me, and knowing what every patient's goals are. 

Ten years in, this is everything I know about managing the daily work of an SLP. I'd love to know what other SLPs do to achieve balance, happiness and efficiency in their days. Any tips? Send them to me at