How Can I Manage My Speech Therapy Clients’ Frustration?

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Child pouting during speech therapy session

Speech therapy is unique to other therapies in that the areas our interventions focus on are incredibly physically and emotionally intimate. Swallowing, breathing, speech. Struggling with these everyday functions can weigh heavy on our clients. And, unfortunately, like other therapies, change is something that comes gradually and with hard work. It’s no wonder so many patients become frustrated and discouraged. Thankfully, there are ways for therapists to combat speech therapy frustration.


Set Expectations

Like so many other aspects of our practice, the best way to manage our clients is to communicate realistic expectations to them. By laying out the path their therapy journey will take, you are preparing them for that long road, so they are best equipped and less likely to become overwhelmed. Before beginning to work with a new client, be upfront with some of the struggles they may face and the emotions that come with it. Acknowledge the validity of their fear, anxiety, and frustration as well as what is and isn’t an appropriate way to communicate those feelings. After all, some clients with cognitive challenges may also face confusion (think after a stroke) or have trouble expressing emotions as a neurotypical client might. If possible, you can even help them explore ways to keep a positive mindset and release frustration.


Recognize the Signs

When it comes to younger clients or those who already struggle to communicate, expressing frustration can be a challenge in and of itself. This can present itself in many ways: outward anger or resentment, incessant body movement, self-oriented abuse, a lack of self-confidence and so much more. Educate yourself and your staff on these signs of speech therapy frustration, so that all are aware of when redirection or change in tactics might be necessary. As you work with everyone, learn where their unique threshold lies. It’s also a good idea to share this information with parents and caretakers.


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Learn to Deescalate

Frustration-sparked outbursts are not uncommon in the world of therapy, especially when working with younger children. De-escalation is the key to remaining sensitive to the client’s needs and struggles without letting the behavior derail the session. If outbursts are a problem in your clinic, it might be time to invest in some training for you and your staff. In the meantime, here are a few strategies to try:

  • Reestablish personal space – by removing yourself from the client’s bubble, you are showing that you respect their space and let them regain control.
  • Take a few deep breaths – taking a moment to breathe can help reduce stress in both therapist and patient, bringing energy levels back down to a workable level.
  • Validate their emotions – reassure your client that what they are feeling is valid. Try re-stating their concerns to them and using empathy to help them feel heard and understood.
  • Don’t match the energy – therapists, too, are only human. A frustrated client can often be a frustrating client. Do your best to keep your demeanor calm. Remember, it’s okay to excuse yourself and take a break for a few moments before returning to a session.


Collaborate and Listen

When patients feel involved and empowered in their treatment, they are more likely to adhere to the plan set before them. SLP clients may already feel powerless, make sure you’re involving them however possible in the development of their plan and the setting of their goals. This will look different for different populations (ex: a post-stroke geriatric client versus a child with developmental delays vs someone recovering from a brain injury). Use pictures, and ask for permission when it comes to plans, a simple, “How does that sound?” and a nod can move mountains. Mind your body language, appearing more open to the collaboration you will need from the patient to succeed.


Don’t Add to the Frustration

The truth is, frustration is a symptom, and largely stems from anxiety. After all, you’d be frustrated too between underlying medical concerns, and the overall “tossed around” difficult-to-understand insurance policies. The good news is you don’t have to contribute to the cycle.

One of the best ways a clinician and clinic staff can manage the frustration of their client’s experience is to provide a smooth office experience. Whether that means keeping detailed notes to prevent asking for the same info over again, having assessments at your fingertips so you can focus on the person in front of you rather than a piece of paper, or offering telehealth for clients who have difficulty making in-office appointments, there are ways to simplify a naturally frustrating process.

This should also extend to out-of-office interactions, with cleaner billing and a patient portal to share documents, a patient or their caretaker can have the information they need and the transparency that is so rare in the medical world.


The Key to a Frustration-Free Clinic

Of course, one of the best ways to mitigate frustration for your clients is to eliminate it from your clinic staff and their tools. Fusion helps thousands of PTs, OTs, and SLPs streamline their practice. With incredible insights, billing, assessments, telehealth and so much more you and your clients will benefit. Schedule a demo to see our EMR solution in action today.


Fusion: Solutions made to save time and money for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Get a demo


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