It’s that time again. Another summer is coming to a close and another school year about to begin; the freshness, the hope, the promise that this year your teletherapy sessions will somehow be different. With those frustrations from last year melted away in the hot summer sun, you are now ready to perform teletherapy like never before. So get ready to jump in and do it!
Not so fast. Returning to performing teletherapy sessions for kids in school after the long summer break can be both hectic and stressful for clinicians. While the summer has been refreshing and offered a sense of renewal, the excitement of re-entry can quickly fade into disappointment unless you keep some critical thoughts in mind.
Veteran clinicians performing therapy have a pretty good idea of what to expect and plan to make only minor tweaks. However, even those experienced therapists would be wise to keep the following tips in mind. These will be helpful as they prepare to put their best foot forward and strive to make the transition into the new year both effective and painless.
1. Reflecting on Past Experiences
Face it; the ultimate learning tool is your experience, both positive and negative. Clinicians who have been at it for a while say that they learned more in the first few months of delivering teletherapy than they did during their training program. Reflecting upon these experiences can prove to be an invaluable tool.
One of the critical ingredients of great therapists is that they are forever looking for new methodologies and techniques to improve their teletherapy sessions. Living in this growth mode is another benefit of experience, as seasoned clinicians have learned to be unafraid of experimenting and trying something new.
2. This is a Brand New Year
Before you begin, abandon the preconception that this year’s teletherapy will be like last year’s. Every child and every session deserves to be given a clean slate. While you may have the file on this particular student and be aware of strengths and weaknesses, this should in no way prejudice the therapy you deliver nor your opinion of the child.
A clinician should refrain from passing judgment on a student until she has given enough sessions to get a good feel as to what this student is all about. Perhaps the previous therapist had a personality conflict with this child, which colored the notes written in this kid’s file. Since you don’t know, don’t assume; give the kid a fair chance.
3. Set Goals for Everyone
At the core of creating every IEP is establishing goals for each student. Aside from goal-setting for the children, the SLP needs to set goals for herself as well. Every therapist needs to do some introspection before the school year begins and set personal goals to improve in areas of weakness, wherever they may be found.
These personal goals provide direction for the therapist and can help keep the momentum in those “down” moments. Don’t feel that the goals you set at the beginning of the year are carved in stone. They can be modified as the year progresses as “facts on the ground” bring about unexpected changes.
4. Come to that First Session Prepared
As every experienced therapist knows, the most critical aspect of delivering therapy is to be thoroughly prepared beforehand. Those looking in from the outside think the therapy session is only about the hour with the child, and that’s it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Delivering great teletherapy takes lots of time and preparation.
You need to get things off on the right foot and be entirely prepared for that first session. You need to impress your students that the session will be packed with opportunities to grow and improve. What’s more, complete preparation for that first session will give your student a sense of security that the therapist is in full control and knows what she’s doing.
A smooth year of therapy begins with a commitment to preparation. The therapist who procrastinates until the final moment is setting herself up for one rough year. While a new therapist will undoubtedly need more preparation than a veteran, every therapist needs ample time to prepare and review if the objective is to have a fantastic year.
5. You Need to Set the Tone
As in so many areas of life, what happens at the very beginning can be of great import. And the school year is no different. Those first few days and weeks of therapy will probably set the tone for the entire school year. Not only will the child get a sense of what to expect from the therapy, but respect for the therapist may be won or lost as well.
Because of this, the wise therapist must seize that narrow window of opportunity to impress upon her new students what the sessions will be like, and develop a strong rapport that will carry throughout the year. Not every child will necessarily like you. Sometimes the personalities don’t jive. But every child should respect you and recognize that you are there to help.
You may need to be a bit tougher at the beginning, employing more discipline to establish a proper working relationship. Afterward, you can begin to ease up. But if you start the other way, you may never set yourself up in the appropriate role, leading to devastating consequences for therapy sessions throughout the year.
6. Make Contact with Parents
When you deliver therapy to children, it isn’t only the children with whom you need to interact. Getting the parents to trust you is imperative for long term success with the child. The parent must understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that paramount to every other concern is your interest in the child being as successful as possible.
This may require you to go the extra mile by contacting the parents a few times within the first weeks of the school year. While perhaps unnecessary from the standpoint of protocol, this effort in contacting and communicating with parents will gain you an invaluable ally that will have unforeseen benefits as you move forward.