I’ve spent approximately 9,720 hours doing speech-language therapy, and I’ve discovered the secret to a great speech therapy session.  Evidence-based practices are essential to our success.  However, to me, there is something else that supersedes the research and the academic tenets taught to us in graduate school.  What is it?  To get to the head (speech and language skills), this SLP needs to go through the heart.  Say it with me, “To get to the head, you go through the heart.”  So, what does that mean?


The Research

For a long time, I thought I was just emotional—all the time.  I cry often, and it is difficult to hide my feelings.  Within the last five years, I realized that this has been my SLP Superpower.  So, I started to research.  With brain science and social health research on my side, I learned that the lovey-dovey stuff, in reality, is essential to our work as speech-language pathologists.

This year has gifted me the work of Dr. Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade.  He teaches high school English in East Oakland and is an Associate Professor at San Francisco State University.  He believes in providing children with basic needs before they can learn.  SLPs, this goes back to our graduate school days and learning about Maslow’s Hierachy.  He states, “I’ve always understood intuitively that Maslow was right: I have to start at food, shelter, clothing, safety, and then I have to create a space that gives them a sense of love and belonging…I know you have to win the heart to win the head. But most of my training and the professional development I’d get was about the head. I had to leave the field of education and get into conversations in public health and neuroscience and these other fields to understand from a research perspective what I needed to pay attention to. I knew once kids felt safe, the head would open up for me.”

So, SLPs, repeat his words, “Win the heart to win the head.”  Here’s a two-step directive for your speech and language sessions.  First, support your students’ and clients’ heart needs.  Then, work on speech and language skills.  That’s what you need for a great speech therapy session.

3 Tips for Getting to the Heart:  SLP Version

  1.  Checking In At the beginning of my sessions, I check in emotionally with my students.  During our first session together, I explicitly teach and practice what it looks like to share when Ms. Phuong says, “What’s up?”  They know they can share one experience from the day using 3-4 sentences.  Then, I use this information to set the tone for a session.  One time, I had a student tell me his parents were in the midst of a divorce.  So, on that day, the session leaned less on the brain and more on supporting his heart.
  2. Literacy-based Interventions Dr. Duncan-Andrade talks about how we can get a student to the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy—the level of self-actualization.  To do this, the child needs to feel that he is relevant and valued.  Books are a natural (and evidence-based) way to honor backgrounds and life experiences.  In our clinic, books reign.   We have even written a book on how to use books in speech therapy.  Check out Literacy-Based Speech and Language Therapy Activities.
  3. Know the Child’s Superpower My first session always centers around the child’s favorite things. Is she a Pokémon zealot?  Does he love Takis chips?   Does he love to draw comic strips?  I take this new piece of information, and I bestow the child with this Superpower.  Then, I find a way to incorporate it.  When what you love is honored, it’s amazing how hard you will work!  This is a great way to speak to the heart AND work on his speech and language skills.

Let us champion the whole human being.  Here’s to our heart-work, SLPs.

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