School vs. Outside SLP: Tips for Collaboration

School vs. Outside SLP

This post was inspired by a Facebook thread I read months ago.  A parent was expressing frustration and concern over the fact that her child’s school SLP and outside SLP (not sure if it was a private practice or hospital based SLP) were not targeting the same goals and did not agree upon a diagnosis.  So I thought I would write this blog with some of the lessons I have learned through my own clinical experiences collaborating among various professionals.  

Let me first say that I have been on both sides of this situation.  I’ve been the school SLP as well as the private practice SLP so I feel I have a pretty good grasp of this situation and possible problems that may arise.

Here are my quick tips for successful collaboration among settings of SLPs:

1.  Accept professionals have different areas of expertise:

We, a SLPs, have to accept that each of us comes from different clinical backgrounds and vary in areas of expertise.  We all have areas in which we excel and areas we are not as skilled (possibly due to lack of experience or personal interest).  This doesn’t make one SLP better, more knowledgeable, or more informed, as compared to other SLP.  It just means we have strengths in different areas.  We should acknowledge that when working with the other professional as well as IN FRONT of parents.

2.  Respect the other professional regardless of your personal feelings:

I’m sure we have all met professionals we may not necessarily like or whose methodology or theoretical framework we may not completely agree with.  However, it is UNACCEPTABLE and UNPROFESSIONAL to share our negative feelings, thoughts, or assumptions about another professional with our client’s families.  Bad mouthing another professional to parents or families is never ok.  I can simply show my respect for another professional and accept his/her varying backgrounds while simply explaining to my client’s parents that we operate from a different theoretical framework.  It does not mean one is “more right” than the other. This is not addressing professionals who are using methodologies or recommending therapies that have been proved ineffective or not beneficial.  In these cases, it is always our duty to present the most recent research to parents.

3.  Expect differences in therapy plans:

As there are numerous evidence based therapy techniques and strategies for every disorder or delay, we as SLPs must expect that no two SLPs will provide the SAME exact therapy or create the SAME exact treatment plan unless working collaborative with that goal in mind.  This means we should also be educating parents that having different approaches to treatment is not all that uncommon or concerning.  In fact, we would rather have a child exposed to several different types of therapy strategies in order to determine which work the best.  Thinking about this logically we can cover more therapeutic ground, so to speak, if we are trialing different techniques and sharing our results.  This can very easily be achieved with simple communication between the appropriate professionals.

4.  Remember that Progress is key:

I think the most important thing we must remember when working with other professionals is to keep our eye on the prize!  Our client’s progress is key!  If our shared client is showing progress than our approach is working.  If progress is stunted or has plateaued maybe its time we discuss other possible therapy strategies with other professionals to determine appropriate changes or modifications that should be made to a client’s treatment plan.

5.  Successful communication is essential:

For effective collaboration among professionals, communication is essential.  It is important to determine at initial contact what would be the most effective means of communication among professionals.  For example, in the school setting, the best way to get in touch with me daily was via email as I covered several schools.  It would not be beneficial if a private therapist attempted to call me over his/her lunch break as I would often times not be in my office but be in a completely different location.  So it is necessary to communicate among professionals however we must remember to find an effective mode of communication for this to work.

6.  Educate Parents and Complement Therapy Goals:

Parent education and training is part of our job as SLPs.  If I know a parent is going to receive an evaluation from a different setting, I do prepare them that the results and goals for therapy may differ in this other setting which is perfectly appropriate.  For example, in the school setting the goal for any specialized professional is to improve a student’s academic functioning and/or performance therefore goals emphasized in a school setting will differ greatly from goals in a hospital or private setting.  And they should!  That is what parents AND other professionals must understand.  Our goals may overlap but we are coming from different approaches based on the setting with which we work.  So our goals SHOULD differ in some ways.  I always explain to parents that I much prefer to work on complementary goals rather than the same goals.  This means if the school SLP is going to work on articulation, I may focus on language development.  This way all areas of need are being targeted and I can take note of skills the other SLP is working on that appear to be generalizing to my therapy room and vice versa.

7.  Our Passion Sometimes Gets in the Way:

I think this is really the most important lesson I can share with you.  When I first graduated from graduate school, I felt a large weight upon me when working with clients.  I felt I needed to know the answer to every parents’ question and respond to any one whose approach was different than my own.  I was so passionate about wanting to help my clients that, I have to embarrassingly admit, I let my ego get in the way.  However, fairly quickly I learned it was not about me and I’ll never become a better clinician unless I keep learning from others.  I learned that it is impossible to know everything about everything.  It’s OK to say “I’m not sure but I’ll do some research and get back to you”.  It’s OK to USE the brilliance of other professionals and learn from their very rich clinical experiences to make me a better clinician.  We don’t always have to be right.  We don’t have to know it all.  Two brains are always better than one.  Our passion for helping our clients sometimes results in inflexibility and ego.  And Ego has no place in speech-pathology, however it does seem to get in the way sometimes.  So I just encourage all of us to try our very best to put our egos away, remain passionate AND open and remember that our client’s progress is all we really should care about.

As SLPs we are passionate professionals who LOVE working with our clients and making a difference.  Sometimes our passion gets in the way but if we just have patience with ourselves and others, we can have wonderful collaborative working experiences with each other.  This is my hope for you!