When you hear the word speech therapy what comes to mind? Helping children with a lisp? Providing communication training for children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder? Restoring speech to someone who has suffered a head injury or stroke?
It is true that speech therapy can aid with an array of developmental disorders, speech and voice disorders, or communication rehabilitation after a stroke or brain injury. But what if you are an adult and have never had a speech disorder or have never been in an accident resulting in a traumatic brain injury? Why should you continue reading this article? How could a speech therapist help someone who is not “disordered”?
Speech therapists are trained to understand all elements of communication: from the way we think about and make sense of language to the way our speech and voice sounds; from the physiology and anatomy of speech and voice production to the psychology of communication. So while it’s not common knowledge, speech therapy can help just about anyone become a stronger communicator.
Here is a list of just 9 (of the many) ways that a speech therapist can assist “non-disordered” individuals improve their communication skills.
1. Adults who stutter
Can a stutter in adults be cured? While research continues to explore the answer to this question, a growing body of research supports that with the right approach, a stutter in adults can be managed. It is, of course, more complex because each individual’s stutter is unique and adults who stutter often have many factors that influence when the stutter presents itself. For instance, for some people certain sounds trigger the stutter (sometimes p, l, d, t, n, or others). For others, anxiety triggers their stutter. For others, they find they stutter more on the phone than in person. Whatever the “trigger,” speech therapy is recommended and shown to be effective in managing and reducing the severity of the stutter and allowing adults to take back control of their speech. It is possible to prevent a stutter from having an overwhelming negative influence on your work or social life.
2. Accent Modification
With cultural differences often comes speech and language differences that occasionally make it difficult for native English speakers to understand a person who did not learn English as a first language. This can generate frustrating communication obstacles for non-native English speakers. While an accent is in no way a disorder, a representation of a lack of intelligence, or something to be “fixed,” some people who qualify their own accents as being “strong” elect to modify or “reduce” their accents. A speech therapist is trained to teach the sounds of the English language, and as such, is able to help a person introduce these sounds in the regular speech in an attempt to reduce the perceived “amount” of accent.
3. Improving the Quality of Your Speaking Voice
This is not often seen as necessary by the average speaker, however, professional voice users can definitely benefit from a discussion of how to use their speaking voice more effectively. A professional voice user is anyone who relies on their voice to make a living (e.g. singers, actors, radio hosts, teachers, etc.) These above-average demands on the voice require a certain efficiency in the system, and the voice could be at risk for damage (temporary or permanent). A speech therapist can train a person to use their speaking voice more effectively/efficiently, so the time they spend speaking throughout the day does not impact their professional voice when they need it.
4. Interviewing and Other Professional Communication Skills
The job market is competitive and with it comes a desire of professionals to improve their communication skills in interviews and at work. This might involve working with a speech therapist on small talk, communicating concisely, non-verbal communication, voice quality, enunciation, and discussions about first impressions, topic management, and communicating in conflict.
5. Anxiety When Meeting New People
While it is common to be nervous when meeting new people, for some people their anxiety can prevent them from offering their opinions at work, communicating in conflict, making new friends, or even developing existing relationships. A speech therapist can help a person confront this anxiety as it relates to communication, and provide them with the underlying skills they need to be successful in meeting the communication demands of their day-to-day lives.
While it is most prevalent in the mornings before enough caffeine, mumbling is a common speech pattern that results from reducing effort in speech. This might come from a reduced volume and air pressure, or it might come from light or imprecise consonant productions. It could also be a result of speaking too rapidly. Whatever the reason, a speech therapist is trained to work with your unique speech production to develop a comfortable way to be more articulate.
7. Small Talk and Networking
People who are good at small talk and networking have one thing in common: their above average ability to relate to others. No matter who they talk to, they can find something to relate to or talk about….I think we all have at least one of those friends. A speech therapist can help the 90% of us for whom that skill doesn’t come naturally to be discussing and practicing strategies, language, and non-verbal communication that are critical in establishing comfort and ease with talking to just about anyone.
8. Being Heard in Noisy Environments
There are many reasons your friends may ask you to repeat yourself a few times when you’re out at a cafe or noisy gathering, perhaps from the way you articulate or produce certain sounds or the projection of your voice. Often, people report losing their voice or feeling tightness in their throat after a fun night out. A speech therapist is trained to help you optimize both your speech and voice to be more effective at saying what you want, when you want. In addition, a speech therapist can use their understanding of sound and the physiology of sound production to help you understand possible modifications you can make depending on the environment in which you want to communicate.
9. Gender Spectrum Communication Training
As society continues to progress towards transgender and non-binary inclusion, more individuals are feeling free to live their gender identity. As a result, the need is growing for safe and supportive services that respect and facilitate an individual’s gender expression if and wherever they fall on the gender spectrum. This might involve working on pitch of voice, voice projection, use of language or any other aspect of a person’s communication that they feel is not an authentic representation of their self.