also known as Which Hat are you Wearing?
How many times have you heard those infamous words “we need to talk” and what does it do to the pit of your stomach?
As an undergraduate communication disorders student I was required to take several psychology classes. First there was the class called psycho-pharmaceuticals…or at least that’s what I’m going to call it. It was all about various drugs, their half-life, their effect on the central nervous system, etc. Truthfully, the class itself ranged from incredibly boring to down-right fascinating. A second class I was required to take was Introduction to Counseling. I knew Counseling was important, but a class? Come on… At the time, I assumed I had to take the class for a couple of reasons. First, it fit in nicely with a minor in Psych (and who doesn’t want that?). Second, it was a three-credit course which was about $1500 for the university.
Over the years though, I’ve realized the true reason for taking the class and I am extremely grateful for the requirement. While I knew counseling was at least a part of my career choice (it is for anyone in SPED), little did I realize exactly how much I would utilize the lessons I learned. Nor did I realize that this class wasn’t a requirement for all SLPs. In fact, according to this document, 80% of the SLPs/Audiologists did not take any counseling courses prior to receiving their degree. Granted, it’s a fairly small sample of respondents, but probably fairly accurate. This saddens me a great deal…not because I had to take a class and others didn’t…but because I think everyone would benefit from it.
You’ve been at work for about 5 months (and have a 6 month probation period) and your boss calls you into the office unexpectedly…How quickly does your head spin and you try to figure out what could you have possibly done wrong? What does your stomach do on that long (Oh so long!) walk down the hallway?
Your significant other calls you and says, “we need to talk.” What is your stomach doing now? Is your heart dreading hearing those words “it’s not you, it’s me” or “it just won’t work out.”
Even just writing these things has my stomach in knots. I can put myself into those positions and I know exactly how I would feel. I know what it feels like to walk down that hallway wracking my brains trying to figure out what I could have possibly done wrong…will I have a job? Can I fix this problem? Will he leave me? What did I do?
Have you considered that every time a SPED teacher or SLP calls a parent to set up a meeting, it’s the same as saying “we need to talk.” Often the parent dreads those meetings…particularly if it’s an initial planning meeting or a meeting to get the results of testing. The parents’ stomachs are filled with that same dread, that same angst that we have all faced. Even when we know the meeting is coming (hello, annual performance reviews) the stomach starts to churn and the questions start.
I know how a parent feels because I’ve been on that side of the table. I’ve been the student that received services…and I’ve been the parent of the child receiving services. I know first hand that dread tinged with relief at hearing what’s wrong. Dread because there is something wrong with this beautiful loving child of mine…did I do it? Was I the cause? What could I have done differently? Relief because finally…finally…there’s a reason. Sadly, the relief fades quickly while the dread tends to stay…every time progress reports were read, every time an IEP meeting was called, every time assessment was conducted the dread was there. Did she make her goals? What will I do if she’s dismissed? What will I do if she isn’t dismissed? Why isn’t she getting better? What did I DO?
A professor of mine once suggested that we place a picture of the client on the table when we call a meeting. Although I haven’t done this yet, I think this is truly a fantastic idea. Not only does it give us the visual reminder of which client we’re talking about (and for some of us with big caseloads, or the OT that’s only seen him a few times, I can imagine that would be necessary)…but it would remind us that we are dealing with a person. It’s not just a client…It’s not the kid I see on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00-1:30…it’s not that “kid” from the resource room…you know, the one that is in the principal’s office daily…it’s not that lady from room 310 with the MBS yesterday…we are talking about somebody’s loved one…a son, a daughter…a mother or father.
I know not every SPED teacher, Audiologist, or SLP has had the privilege of sitting on the “other” side of the table but I, for one, am extremely grateful that I did. I am able to employ my powers of empathy and know what it feels like to hear that something is wrong with my child. Or that she didn’t achieve her goals (again). I’m extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to show teachers and professionals the things that were right with my child. I realize now as a professional, how easy it is to lose sight of those things that are right.
Now, as a professional, I try to imagine myself on the other side of the table. I imagine myself hearing the news I’m going to give them and accord them with the same empathy I would hope a professional would have for me. I also try to remember to invite the parent/caregiver to share the wonderful things their loved one can do…the things that make them so special.
I try to be humane…or is that human…is there a difference? I try to care.
On which sides of the table have you sat? Were you required or did you take a counseling class in either undergraduate or graduate school? How do you (and I know you do) connect with your client’s loved ones? Please…drop me a line and let me know. I am truly interested.
Until then…Adventure on!