So, It Turns Out There’s a Label for My Frustrations

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This weekend is the Annual Convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association being held in Washington D. C. in a hybrid format. (Given the votes going on in Congress right now, I’m a little sad I’m not there. I’m hoping the early childhood education and universal preschool programs survive the United States Senate!)

I attended a Master Class on decolonizing speech-language pathology services. The concept of decolonizing education originated in South Africa. While there are several constructs associated with this concept I want to explore further, the crux of it is colonization happens when there is a disparity between parties in a relationship and where the party with more perceived power imposes their worldview on the party with less perceived power.

That definition of colonization sounds like just about every doctor’s visit I’ve ever had. How about you?

I think the concept of decolonization really, really needs to be applied to parent education models like early intervention. But, it is applicable to any interaction we have with clients in any setting. I’ve written about this idea before as a ripple effect. I just didn’t realize that others were actively conducting research in this area until yesterday.

There is no way to work around the fact that when clients seek out our professional services, we hold more power in that relationship. Clients are seeking our opinions, a diagnosis, and our ideas and suggestions for improving the speech, language, cognitive, or swallowing issue(s) they are experiencing. But, it seems to me that we need to acknowledge we have that power and use it mindfully.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The evaluation and therapy process should not be about us as professionals. It should be about the client and their family. Maybe we see a problem the client or family doesn’t. Maybe the client perceives difficulty with something that isn’t the most important thing to us clinically. Decolonizing the therapy process means that we place the client’s and family’s needs at the forefront of our decision making process. Decolonizing means we ask questions about what they perceive as their biggest day to day challenges. Decolonizing means that we reconsider basing our evaluations on protocols that weren’t always designed with the client in our therapy in mind. Decolonizing means we provide suggestions for elicitation strategies and suggestions for carryover and generalization that are meaningful for the family. Decolonization means recognizing that the person and the family are more than just the diagnostic label we apply to them.

I think decolonizing means making sure our clients know what we’re targeting in therapy and why we’re targeting it. If our clients are part of the planning process, then that should be a given. They may require our time and expertise in terms of learning how to help themselves or their loved ones. But, that’s why we went to school to learn how to learn to help others. The trick is to make sure that we are providing suggestions and using techniques that don’t contribute to colonization of the therapy process.

Exactly how to do this is an area for further exploration. But, I really believe that it should begin by talking with our clients instead of at them.

What are your thoughts?

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to reading your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.

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