Bringing together all of our thoughts into how we view ourselves as therapists, our contributions to the professional mental health and speech language world. This is our first “Weekend Wrap-up.” In this segment we will be introducing:
- Who we are as stutterers and therapists
- How we manage to bring our stutter into “the room” as a mental health professional
- Connections between Speech Language Therapists and Mental Health Therapists: do we overlap or stay separate
Bringing stuttering and being a therapist together
I love being a therapist. Everyday people tell me their stories. They are the story tellers, and I am the story listener. It took me a long time to become a therapist. When I was younger I did not know that I could be a therapist. Looking back it makes sense, but back then I thought it would not be possible as a stutterer. Who ever thought that I would put myself into a situation of talking to people all day? Who would understand me and how would my stutter be received by others?
As a therapist who stutters there are number of questions, concepts and ideas that I grapple with:
Coming out to clients about stuttering: Do I tell clients that I stutter? Do I wait until it happens? Do I put it on my website or other information?
In my early years as a therapist I was nervous to tell my clients that I stutter. What would they say? What wouldn’t they say? Would clients want to work with a stuttering therapist? I tried to come up with the right answer. No matter how long I discussed this with other clinicians, I never quite figured the one answer. I kept going back to the idea that the session is set up to be about my client and not myself. So I don’t say anything, just be invisible.
I brought this up to one of my clinical supervision groups. The responses were mixed. Some people thought I would be intruding on my clients’ personal experiences. There is a clinical idea that the session time is for the client and that bringing in your own “self” dilutes and/or bonds the relationship between therapist and client. But there I am in the room and a part of the discussion. So, I tried different ways of bringing it up in session. Sometimes it helped and other times it got in the way.
Most recently I have noticed that I tend to “forget” to introduce it to my clients in individual session. Now that works just fine. But then I stutter and sometimes my clients laugh or try to complete my sentence. Then I am in the awkward place of having to let them know that I stutter, or “that’s my stutter, it’s organic.”
When running classes, groups, or workshops, I tend to introduce myself as a stutterer. I explain that it is an organic process and not related to nerves or stress, that if anyone wants any part of what I say repeated then just let know. Easy.
What’s the difference between individual and group experiences that I use two different processes? I tend to feel more comfortable in a grouping of people to introduce myself without feeling that I am drawing attention away from the clients’ experiences. In an individual session I believe that I tend to not want to focus too much attention on myself and do not introduce it.
The challenge then is manage my reactions when clients react to my stutter and keep the therapeutic bond intact.
What do we call ourselves: I never know what to call my professional self. It’s a funny field. There are specific definitions, contract requirements, insurance requirements, and world views filled with connection and/or stigma with the way we refer to ourselves. Here are some of my thoughts on the words we use:
- Mental Health Professional: the field that I am in that is guided by licensing boards
- Therapists: covers both Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) and Mental Health Professionals. In the stuttering community it generally refers to SLP’s. I like the general idea of this.
- Counselor: this makes me think of camp counselors.
- Clinician: more of a technical definition that I use when working for organizations.
- Psychotherapist: I generally use this term. My hope is that it defines me as different than a psychiatrist (we always get confused) and able to work in multiple integrated therapies.
- Behavioral Therapist: type of therapeutic modality
- Integrated Care Therapist: refers to a integrated model in community health centers
Questions: How do you define these words? What terms do you like to use? How do we define the difference between Speech Language Therapists and Mental Health Professionals in the stuttering community?
Connections between Speech Language Therapists and Mental Health Therapists: do we overlap or stay separate? From ages 12 to 18 I worked with a wonderful Speech Language therapist, Mrs. Berman. She focused on working with increasing my self-confidence and self-worth. We played games and chatted away every week. My memories continue to be warm, close, and connected.
To this day I remember her warmth and esteem and try to bring this into the room with my clients. As an SLP she worked in developing a strong relational connected bond with me.
Looking back at this relationship it is hard to tell if she worked as a Speech Language Therapist or a Psychotherapist.
Questions: What are your experiences between the two?
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