Are most SLPs afraid of the truth?

fighting slp burnout

I’ve been thinking a lot about something this week.

When we were trained to be SLPs, we learned about diagnosis…we learned about treatment…and we learned all the book knowledge that we could possibly squeeze in to our brains.

But without fail, there are still situations that pop up that weren’t covered in the books…at least that’s how it felt for me.

When I started, I didn’t know how deal with stubborn students who push limits and try to get out of work every chance they get.

I hadn’t learned how to say, “No” to requests from colleagues when they asked me to do things that take me away from more important tasks.

I know I definitely wasn’t prepared for those first few times I had to be the first one to tell a parent that their child has a disability.

During my first few years of practice, I stumbled time after time with these sticky situations.

All because I was afraid to tell the truth and I was afraid to set limits.

I let students walk all over me because I didn’t want to be the “mean one”, and I wanted them to like me.

This also meant that I let my students get away with too much, didn’t challenge them, and did them a disservice in the long run.

I said “Yes” to almost everything anyone asked me to do, no matter how silly or unreasonable it was…like when a teacher asked me to give up my testing time to help dismiss her students because she wasn’t organized enough to get the kids out the door on time.

Every time I failed to set limits like this with my colleagues, I ended up enabling some of them when I should have let them figure it out on their own.

I was like a robot at all of my IEP meetings, hiding behind the technical jargon that made me feel smart and safe. I was “professional”, unemotional, and I did everything “by the book”. Usually, I held back for fear of how they would respond.

This meant that some parents didn’t quite grasp the full truth when it came to their child’s abilities.

Unfortunately, the truth always came out eventually…and my attempt to shield them from it early on was nothing but a Band-Aid.

I was afraid of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and upsetting someone.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell the whole truth and give people the “loving push” they needed to get out of their comfort zone, to face a new challenge, or to accept a difficult diagnosis so they could work on solutions.

You’d think that I’d have this down after being in the field for over ten years, but sometimes that fear of the truth rears its ugly head even today.

Within the last few years, I was treating a child who refused to do what I asked.

I was uncomfortable disciplining her right in front of her parents, who watched each session, but I couldn’t get anything done in therapy while she was being defiant.

I was afraid to be honest with them.

I’d beat around the bush, say things like “Yes, she is very strong-willed”, or “We had some challenges today.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I can’t get anything done with your child if she keeps whining the whole time!”

I confided to a mentor of mine about my struggles. Thankfully, he’s not the type who’s afraid to be honest.

He asked me, “What is the worst thing that will happen if you’re honest?”

I hesitated, before answering, “Umm…either they’ll understand, be supportive, and start working on the behavior with me. Or they’ll get upset and possibly pull their child out of services. Which would mean I wouldn’t have to deal with this anymore.”

It was a win-win. They would either accept my help, or they wouldn’t. All I had to do was be honest, and leave them with the choice.

After my “a-ha moment”, my mentor shared a video with me.

This 14 minute video shows a story of a psychotherapist who fits the stereotype down to every last detail. He’s proper, cliché, and says all the things a therapist is “supposed” to say to their patients.

This all changes when he finds out that he has six weeks to live. 

Watch what happens when he stops holding back and starts being honest.

The video is called “Our time is up”, by Rob Pearlstein. Click here to watch it.

What would happen if we were truly honest with our patients, students, and colleagues?

Would the outcomes be as catastrophic as we think?

Or would this give people the “loving push” that gives them their “a-ha” moment?

No matter your situation, whether you have weeks, years, or decades left in your career…you only have a limited amount of time to make a difference.

Life is too short to hide the truth.

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tier 2 vocabulary; school speech therapy; language therapy techniques


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