During the most recent episode of The Missing Link for SLPs podcast, Hillary Guest spoke of her experience transitioning from a student, to an SLP in the early stages of her career, and finally to opening her own private practice. Her journey is full of wisdom other SLPs can apply while pursuing their own dreams. 

One of the main takeaways from Guest’s career is the importance of forging connections with clients. Whether you’re working as a CF, have become a full-time SLP, or are running your own practice, there’s no denying treatment goes far beyond having a game plan and implementing it. Using specific treatment programs or approaches only goes so far without rapport between the SPL and the client.

Unfortunately, some clinicians view building rapport as a secondary requirement, separate from clinical treatment. If there’s one thing SLPs can learn from Guest’s career, however, it’s that the opposite is true. Forging connections with clients enhances treatment, particularly during early intervention. 

For one, if children see working with an SPL as an enjoyable experience, they’re more likely to actively engage. They’re also more likely to cooperate if they trust the SPL, so making them feel you’re a “friend” can go a long way. This could mean shifting treatment plans to accommodate what clients are going through during a given session. Of course, this doesn’t mean SPLs should let negative behavior slide but acknowledging that mental health and life outside of treatment impacts progress is crucial to achieving it.

It’s not just children that pediatric SPLs need to establish rapport with either. As Guest mentions during the episode, their parents and loved ones look to SPLs for solutions. And although clinicians don’t necessarily have all the answers, offering support and resources increases trust. It also enables loved ones to become more involved with treatment, which can benefit clients in the long run. 

Stress and anxiety often accompany treatment for both children and parents, especially those who are new to it. Showing support can ease those tensions and acclimate them to the process. 

None of this is to say that maintaining professional boundaries isn’t important. Doing so is a given in any clinical position, but establishing those boundaries doesn’t need to prevent SPLs from forging connections with clients. Taking the time to delve into the mental health side of speech therapy can make the coaching and teaching portions far more effective. And although this is especially true of pediatric cases, it applies to any clinical environment you’re working in. Unfortunately, some settings will allow more time for this than others. Whenever it’s possible to approach treatment holistically, however, that should be the goal.

Human beings are social creatures, and negative or positive interactions can shape how their treatment unfolds. Just as Guest mentions that poor experiences with supervisors can turn SPLs away from the field, upsetting interactions can cause clients to associate that negativity with their treatment. Instead, SPLs should aim to carry out treatment plans with compassion. Clients will likely thank you for making the experience as personal and pleasant as possible. And you’ll be grateful when those efforts yield positive results.

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