I’m now just a couple of weeks away from completing my clinical fellowship and while I’ve learned a lot, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that SLPs all need one skill that you don’t learn in school – flexibility.
In grad school, you have to turn in a therapy plan x hours before your session. This plan is expected to include everything you will do, all of the materials you will use, and your goals for the day. You’re then expected to follow this plan while being watched like a hawk by a supervisor. I’m here to tell you that life doesn’t work like that! While we can plan some things, life is truly unpredictable. Your client may walk into the office screaming and crying and you may spend the day focused on behavior management. Your client may walk in after an emotionally and mentally challenging day and you may spend your session providing emotional support. Or – in the current case, the world may be hit with a pandemic and whatever plan you had, for the time being, certainly isn’t happening now.
Adaptation is key. Maybe you like to have a plan, but you have to be prepared to throw it away. You need to be able to think on your feet. You have to learn how to have a successful therapy session with nothing but a white board or your cell phone. You will need to find a way to elicit speech sounds or expressive language with nothing but playdoh. You will find yourself learning how to counsel, encourage, and calm your clients. You will need to be prepared for a client to reschedule three times in one week.
You can’t learn these skills through coursework. You have to practice, let go of your type A tendencies, and be able to take whatever life throws your way and not just make it work but make it successful.
If you told me in grad school that within a year of graduating, I’d be working entirely online for an extended period of time, I would have laughed. Instead of becoming stressed, I got excited for teletherapy. I learned ways to help parents better facilitate and elicit language from children with autism at home. I’ve educated myself on best practices as they evolve day by day. I’ve found ways to connect with my students while they are stressed and unsure in the current environment.
The key is flexibility. It can’t be taught in graduate school. You can have all of the degrees in the world, but you must find a way to be flexible. While it may not be a pandemic that rocks your world, you have to be prepared for whatever is thrown your way. Inevitably, there will be something. As they say – go with the flow!
-Rachel Kagle, M.S.Ed., CF-SLP