How Not to Be a “Ken” SLP

Image courtesy of RosZie on

If you weren’t already aware, a “Ken” is the male version of a “Karen”- with the added benefits that come from being male in mainstream culture.

Some Personal Background

This post will be a little different because it’s personal. It’s about an individual I loved deeply and for whom I still have love in my heart.

Unfortunately, because of this individual’s own emotional trauma, abuse, and substance use issues, he has become a “Ken.” That is, he has become an entitled white male who cares little for the people around him. He doesn’t appear to care who he hurts as long as he has access to what he wants in the moment. It’s impulsive. It’s cruel. It’s short-sighted. And, it’s cost him a lot.

But, it’s also cost me a lot. I want to say plainly, I take responsibility for my part in what went wrong. But, I will no longer take responsibility for his part in it.

I last saw him in person 2 1/2 years ago. Despite my requests for space when he walked out, he has continued to contact me via email approximately every 6-8 weeks. Sometimes, I hear from him more frequently. Sometimes, it’s not quite as often.

Some of his emails have sounded like the person he used to be. Some have been contrite and seemingly truly apologetic – like the last one I responded to just last week. But, many have been confrontational, combative, mean, and downright abusive. It’s clear he doesn’t completely understand why I had to step away. It’s also clear he misses me as much as I miss the old him. However, I don’t miss the person he has become and the person I become when I’m around him. His more combative emails can dredge up that person I don’t want to be. Because I never know what type of email he’s sent, I always get anxious when I see his name in my inbox.

I will admit that earlier today I wrote an awful, mean, snarky email draft where I was able to get out every bitchy, hurtful thing I’m fully capable of saying when I’m emotionally involved in a situation. It made me feel better for a minute. But, I just couldn’t find it in me to hit the send button. Because I don’t want to be the one person who really can hurt him as deeply as he’s hurt me. I could easily be that person. He knows it as well. I didn’t send it because I hope he’ll find his way back to himself. Because, if I’m honest, I still have enough love for him that if he’s serious, I want to leave the door open to be the friend he’ll need. But, until that time, I refuse to give him the power to hurt me again.

Despite his outward presentation, I know he’s very vulnerable and insecure. I know this because he’s shared those thoughts with me. I know this because, as I’ve told him on numerous occasions, it’s what he doesn’t say that always tips me off to what’s really going on. I think he treats others the way he does because he’s scared they’ll see that he’s hurting. I think it’s his personal pain that drives his need to alternatively hurt others and then numb himself to what he’s feeling. Unfortunately, the closer you are to him, the more likely he is to hurt you. I think his insecurities are part of the reason why he fell down the QAnon rabbit hole. I have my suspicions as far as other reasons why he followed this path, but I’ll keep those to myself.

I feel very sorry for him. I feel sorry that he has become a Ken who seems to revel in putting others down, gaining from their misfortune. It makes me sad to think about how much the once sensitive and compassionate, if impulsive, person I used to know has changed. Everyone has a dark side, me included. But, this side of him has taken over. His friends have all disappeared from his life, including me. He has no relationship with his family, because one can only tolerate being so deeply hurt so many times.

I do sincerely wish that he is happy, that he is well, and that he finds the peace I know he wants.

On Being A Ken SLP

Ken is a practicing SLP, working primarily with adults with acquired disorders. Therapy services with adults with acquired disorders tend to be shorter term than those for children. Whereas I might work with some pediatric clients for several years, adult-focused services tend to remain in place for only weeks or months.

I think his choice to work with adults with acquired disorders is due to a couple of factors that feed into his larger issues. First, and importantly for him to stay employed, the expectation is that therapy services will be of shorter duration. That means his caseload turns over much more frequently than someone who works with pediatric clients. Secondly and relatedly, he can be quite charming when he chooses to be. He is able to maintain that facade for a while when he first meets someone. Because his caseload turns over relatively frequently, his clients rarely have the opportunity to see behind the image he wants them to see. His choice to work in home health also means he does not often cross paths with co-workers.

However, I have watched the devolution of his therapy skills. Where he once took the time to individualized and tailor therapy services to each client, he now prescribes “one size fits all” strategies. He blurts out things that are thoughtless at best and hurtful at worst to clients and caregivers. He no longer considers how what he says will be received by the listener. He cuts corners where he can and structures his schedule and his caseload to be as easy as possible – for him. He spends minimal time with clients during each session and dismisses them quickly. The therapy he provides is about him, not his clients. He uses his positionality as a middle-aged, mainstream culture male to simply skate by professionally.

I really don’t think most women would be able to get away with what he does. He is most definitely a Ken SLP; even Karen SLPs would be held to higher standards.

Using Your Positionality Statement to Form Closer Connections to Your Clients

I recently have begun developing a positionality or reflexivity statement. These types of statements were originally developed to help social science researchers acknowledge their own positionality when conducting studies. I am attempting to use my positionality statement as a way to capture how the supports I provide to families is different from others SLPs. What I have discovered is that my positionality statement is part of my own healing journey. Through the process of developing my positionality statement, I have come to realize that many of the experiences I had while involved with Ken have given me much deeper connections to the clients on my caseload.

Developing a positionality statement requires that you take the time to do some self-reflection. Some of us are personally and professionally in a place for such an undertaking. Other practitioners may never realize the benefits of looking inside themselves to become a more resilient, stronger, and more empathetic clinician.

The questions in the positionality statement I am developing are:

1.How do I identify?

2.How do I understand the therapy process & my knowledge?

3.What are my beliefs about the therapy process?

4.What is my history/personal interaction with therapy?

5.What is my understanding of systems of oppression & their influence on the clients I support?

6.What is my connection to my clients? Do I share any commonalities, identities, or experiences with my clients?

7.What is important for my clients to know about me?

Here are my answers:

How do I identify? I identify as a mixed race, multidialectal, nomadic, transitioning to middle- age woman who is a child language researcher and speech-language pathologist. I have always been the “new kid.” I attended 11 public school systems in 9 states during my K-12 education. While you may not be able to imagine how I grew up, I don’t see moving that often as a disadvantage. For one thing, it was all I knew as a kid. It was just normal. (If it sounds odd to you, remember that staying in one place for years sounds odd to me.) I’ve had the opportunity to live in every corner of the United States and I mean every corner! This is how I became multi-dialectal.

How do I understand the therapy process & my knowledge of it? I’ve posted about the differences between “training” and “therapy” before. But to that, I would add the following: I understand the therapy process to be one that involves the whole family (or all caregivers), not just my client. When the client’s communication skills change, the dynamic between the client and all people in their life changes. As a lifelong learner and someone who has lived in all corners of the US, my knowledge reflects my study of typical & disordered language acquisition, my knowledge of how different dialects affect typical & disordered language acquisition, & how disparities in evaluation & assessment affect children who have CCN or who come from low-income &/or CLD environments.

What are my beliefs about the therapy process? I believe my role is to be a coach & information source. Taking the client’s concerns into account, my role is to help direct the plan of therapy & to provide responsive, EBP-based or research-suggested, individualized recommendations & elicitation strategies. I also believe that part of my role is to support the family unit as much as they want me to. When the client with communication disorders gains or loses skills, it changes the dynamics of the family. Because I work with pediatric clients, I believe that part of my role is to explain the process behind IFSPs or IEPs and the differences between home-, center-, and school-based SLP services.

What is my history/personal interaction with therapy? As an undergrad, I spent a semester either losing my voice or suffering from bilateral ear infections (a chronic life issue) secondary to allergies. I sought advice from the voice professor who suggested I try voice therapy. As she pointed out, therapy was free for students & it would be good for me to experience the patient side of things. She was right. I find that I spend more time explaining the “why” I’m doing what I’m doing or recommending because that’s what I wanted to know – why do you want me to do this? What’s the point?

What is my understanding of systems of oppression & their influence on the clients I support? I prefer to work with clients and families who have been marginalized based on income and/or CLD issues. Many clients and families have CCN and the cost of those needs contributes to the family’s SES status. Many families are headed by single moms of color. Many clients and families face housing, food, and utility insecurity. Many adults have a high school education or less. Many clients are used to having their concerns dismissed or unheard and many have experienced simply being told what to do.

I’ll relate just one episode from my own life that has given me a better understanding of systems of oppression and their influence on the lives of others.

During the height of the pandemic, I found myself caught in the same system of oppression that traps many people with partners like Ken. I became a statistic in Spring 2020. In April, 2020, things became physical. A neighbor two floors down heard the fight and called both the police and the landlord. Ken fled before the police or the landlord arrived on scene. The police put absolutely no effort into trying to find him because I did not know where he might have gone. The officer on scene told me I wouldn’t be able to get a restraining order because of the pandemic and it wouldn’t be enforceable in that apartment because Ken was on the lease. I was told Ken would be allowed to return to the apartment. I was told my best option was to move out, despite the fact that it was a minimum of $3000 to provide at least first month’s rent and a deposit. Many places required first, last, and security as a deposit with no option to pay over time. I also would have to forfeit the $1500 I had put down on the apartment where we lived or remain legally liable for any damages Ken caused after I left. At that point, I would have had to struggle to scrape up $100 because of the financial situation Ken had put us in. I was the only one working at the time and all of the bills were in my name. Going to a hotel wasn’t an option because they weren’t open. Going to a shelter wasn’t an option because taking the cats with me wasn’t a possibility. Even though he had never hurt the two special needs cats I still have, he had a history of hurting animals in the past.

If you’ve never been in a situation like this, please believe me when I say you can’t just walk away. You have to make sure you have a plan. You have to make sure you think through all contingencies, especially if children or animals are involved. You have to make sure you have money stashed away. You have to make sure you leave no traces when you go. It just wasn’t possible during the lockdowns.

So, I stayed. I stayed as far away as physically possible in the space as much as I could. I basically lived in one room. I started only leaving the space to go to the bathroom or eat after he went to bed.

In May 2020, he decided he wanted to leave the area and he decided I was going to go with him. I agreed to go because due to the laws of where he wanted to go, it would be much, much easier to get away from him. But, in leaving, I had to give up a faculty position – something I’d always wanted. I had to give it up to leave the area and to be able to find a way to disappear. It’s not easy to get away when your name and image are posted on a university’s website and you’re expected to present and publish with that affiliation. It turns out that he chose to walk away several months after we moved across the country – without telling me what he was doing and leaving me to clean up the aftermath.

The truth of the matter is he used his positionality as a white male to hide the truth of what was happening. I’m sure that the fact that he was a white male and so was the cop who responded to the call figured into the lack of effort to find him that April night. Because these things don’t happen in middle-class households, right? The tenancy laws of the state where we lived also protected him over me. The rental practices where first, last, and security deposit are required to rent homes also force people who need to leave a situation to stay.

What is my connection to my clients? Do I share any commonalities, identities, or experiences with my clients? My mother made sure my brother and I understood people are people, no matter their circumstances. And circumstances can change and change quickly. This is a lesson I have experienced firsthand at several points during my life. Because of choices Ken and I both made, I know what it’s like to stress over not being able to pay rent on time or even know where you’re going to sleep that night even though you have a job you have to go to the next morning. I know what it’s like to skip a utility bill and hope it doesn’t get cut off. I know what it’s like to not be able to buy things on credit or to have to pay the outrageous fees and penalties you’re charged because you’ve had to make financial choices in the past. Because I was always the “new kid,” I’ve experienced what the social pressure to assimilate feels like. In some places (like where we were living in 2020), the “locals” make it clear to you just how you need to change. They, however, have no need to learn to be more accepting of you! I know how it feels when you look or talk differently than those around you.

My experiences have made me more grateful. I’m grateful for the families I support. They welcome me into their homes and their lives. I’m grateful for the little things – like being offered a bottle of water or a helping of a meal so I don’t have to cook after a late appointment. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share in their accomplishments. (I watch all of the videos families share with me!) The families’ willingness to share what they have keeps me grounded. I hope they know I identify with them simply because we are all human. I hope they know I am better able to connect with them because my life experiences, even if I haven’t shared exactly what I’ve experienced with them.

What is important for my clients to know about me? First and foremost, I hope my clients know the therapy process is not about me. I hope they know the therapy process is about them and what they need. I have changed the way I think about the therapy I provide. I don’t provide “services” – I don’t deign to “serve” my clients. I support them where they are and seek to provide supports, suggestions, and recommendations to help them get where they want to go. I want my clients to know I see myself as a partner with them, not as the expert lecturing from “on high.” I want my clients to know I don’t have all the answers. I’ll make mistakes. Things won’t go as planned. But, my skill set is helping all of us figure out how to move forward toward the family’s goals.

A Note of Gratitude

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. As I mentioned at the outset, this was a stage in my journey of healing from the chapter of my life that included Ken.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to ask yourself the questions in the positionality statement. I hope that the answers will give you the opportunity to form closer connections to yourself and your clients.

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