When you hear the term 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 help with a variety 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 keep reading this article? How could a speech therapist possibly help someone who is not “disordered?”
Well, don’t hit that back button just yet!
Speech therapists are trained to understand all components of communication. From the way we think about and process 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 well-known, speech therapy can help just about anyone become a stronger communicator. Here is a list of just 10 (of the many) ways that a speech therapist can help “non-disordered” individuals become stronger communicators.
10. 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 café or noisy bar- from the way you articulate or produce certain sounds to the projection of the voice. Often clients report losing their voice or feeling tightness in the 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 the physics of sound and physiology of sound production to help you understand possible modifications you can make depending on the environment in which you want to communicate.
9. 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 or talk about-I think we all have at least one of those friends. A speech therapist can help the 90% of us that skill doesn’t come naturally to by discussing and practicing strategies, language, and non-verbal communication that are critical in establishing comfort and ease with talking to just about anyone!
While it is most prevalent in the mornings before enough caffeine, mumbling is a common speech pattern that results from reduced effort in speech. This might come from reduced volume and air pressure, or it might come from light or imprecise consonant productions. It could also be a result of speaking too fast. Whatever the reason, a speech therapist is trained to work with your unique speech production to develop a comfortable way to be more articulate when you speak and get the boss or spouse off your case.
7. Glottal fry and Uptalk
Not to be confused with clinical voice disorders, glottal fry (or “strohbass”) and uptalk (also known as “High Rising Terminus”) are characteristics of everyday speech. Glottal fry results from the vocal folds being hyper-relaxed and is often perceived as low, noisy, and grumbly. While it is natural in speech as we run out of air before we’re done talking, it can be perceived in professional environments as being “disengaged” or “apathetic,” when it is the overwhelming quality of someone’s speech. At the other end of the spectrum is uptalk or “Valley girl speech,” where the pitch rises at the end of every sentence. This is often joked about in the media and sounds to the listener like the person speaking is asking A LOT of questions. Again, not a voice disorder, but it can be perceived by many to represent “insecurity” or “uncertainty” when used in excess amounts. A speech therapist is trained in vocal production and pitch patterns in speech that can be used to curb these habits if you find they are leading to chronic vocal fatigue, strain, or affecting peoples’ perceptions of you and your communication.
6. Anxiety when meeting new people
While it is common to be nervous when meeting new people, for some people this 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 support the confrontation of this anxiety as it relates to a person’s communication, and provide them with the underlying skills they feel they need to be successful in meeting the communication demands of their day-to-day lives.
5. Interviewing and other professional communication skills
The job market is getting increasingly 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.
4. Transgender communication training
As society continues to progress towards transgender 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 help facilitate an individual’s authentic gender expression. This might involve working on pitch of voice, voice projection, use of language, non-verbal communication, or any other aspect of a person’s communication that they feel is not an authentic representation of their Self.
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 (eg. Singers, actors, radio hosts, teachers, etc.). The above-average demands on the voice, require a certain efficiency in the system, or the voice could be at risk for damage (temporary or permanent). A speech therapist can train a person to use their speaking or non-professional voice more effectively/efficiently, so that the time they spend speaking throughout the day does not impact their professional voice when they need it.
2. Accent modification
One of the benefits of living in a multicultural city like Toronto, Ontario, CA, is that we have the opportunity to experience and interact with a wide variety of cultures. With cultural differences however, 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 barriers for non-native English speakers. While an accent is in no way a disorder, a representation of intellect, 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 into their regular speech in an attempt to reduce the perceived “amount” of accent.
1. Adults who stutter
One of the questions I get the most as a speech therapist is “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 effectively managed. It is, of course, more complicated because each individual’s stutter is unique and adults who stutter often have many factors that influence when the stutter presents itself. For example, for some people, certain sounds trigger the stutter (e.g. p, b, d, t, n, etc.). 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 empowering adults to take back control of their speech. It IS possible to prevent a stutter from having an overwhelmingly negative influence on your work or social life.