I have spent most of my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist in a traditional elementary school setting in Illinois. 18 years to be exact. I consider myself a “seasoned” therapist with a growth mindset. Although I may have been around the block a time or two, I have always remained open to new therapy techniques or materials that spark student growth. However, as long as I have been practicing, it wasn’t until the Fall of 2015 that I learned about “teletherapy” as it relates to Speech-Language Pathology.
You may or may not have heard of the practice of “telehealth”. Maybe your insurance provider has begun to offer “virtual” medical appointments for the cost of a co-pay. Or, quite possibly, maybe you have had the experience of receiving some type of medical treatment via the internet. Imagine a world where you could reach students virtually, to provide effective treatment, in a school-based setting. Your students live in a very rural, remote area of the United States, where therapists are very difficult to find and retain. Or, perhaps your students attend schools that are crowded and rampant with need, and there aren’t enough qualified therapists to hire. Teletherapy has begun to fill the void in school districts around the country where children otherwise went unserved. Even better? ASHA has provided data through over 40 published, peer-reviewed studies to confirm that online speech therapy services produce outcomes that are as good, if not better, than face to face therapy.
My journey as a Speech Teletherapist began in the fall of 2016. My family was forced to relocate this past July, due to my husband’s employment. Knowing I was to resign from my position as a school-based SLP, and, knowing with 18 years experience, I surely wasn’t going to recuperate my salary as a “new hire”, I decided that I was ready to try something new. I have always loved working in a school setting, and after researching several Teletherapy companies, I knew the flexibility of creating my own schedule while continuing to service elementary students might be a perfect fit.
At first, I will admit I was skeptical. Would it FEEL the same as providing face-to-face therapy? How could I make a connection with my students? Would I truly become part of a team while living multiple states away? Would learning the technology feel overwhelming? I can honestly say that after providing teletherapy services for close to 6 months, teletherapy has opened my eyes to a whole new amazing world!
As a seasoned, school-based therapist, there are several “pros” to providing traditional therapy through a telehealth model:
It FEELS the same as providing face-to-face therapy. If you can service students from across a kidney-shaped table, there is truly very little difference.
Indeed, you can still make a connection with your students through a computer. After week 2, I had one of my clients tell me his “Birthday Wish” was for me to fly to his state to celebrate his special day with him.
Absolutely my sites have readily accepted me as part of their educational teams. They call or email for advice on students. I participate in IEP and eligibility meetings. I collaborate with parents and administrators.
I get to make my own scheduled based on when I can work. This allows me to work around my children’s school schedule, and take days off when I need to.
I FINALLY feel like I’m a therapist again. After 18 years of very high caseloads and increasing demands, the 1:1 sessions are allowing me to achieve goals quicker and plan more effectively.
I’ve learned how to think “outside the box” for materials and ways to motivate and encourage a variety of students. I’ve begun creating my own materials for a teletherapy platform, and my students have responded very positively!
I’m truly my own boss. And with that, comes a new professional freedom that was absent while being an employee of a School District.
Are there some “cons” to being a teletherapist? Sure. With every job, there are bumps and obstacles. Here are some of the few things that I have found challenging at times.
I’m 42. I had a lot to learn about technology. But I’m a quick learner, and interactive modules provided by my employer helped train me on how everything worked. Once I practiced a few times, I had it down fast. But I will admit at first, I was a bit overwhelmed. But an old dog CAN learn new tricks!
Most teletherapy companies pay you as an independent contractor, and you are not guaranteed your preferred amount of hours. Learning taxes can be tricky (get a good accountant), and understand that it can take a few months to secure all of the work you need. It became necessary for me to get cross-licensed in a few different states, but I was guided through that process and reimbursed for all the costs. I now can service students in some of the neediest states.
If you need health insurance, most companies don’t provide it because you are indeed an independent contractor.
Paychecks can be inconsistent with winter and spring breaks, state testing schedules, and summer vacation. Plan accordingly.
I am very happy that I decided to take a leap of faith and try something new. In fact, I am very proud of how much I have learned in such a short amount of time. My ability to remain open to change has given me tools I didn’t possess 6 months ago. And I know I am a better therapist because of it.
As the need for our services continue to grow, I have no doubt that teletherapy will continue to attract more school districts, medical facilities and clinics across the globe. We are a unique breed of therapists, with so many gifts to share. I feel very fortunate that I am able to serve students who need those gifts the most.
For more information, visit me at https://www.facebook.com/whimsical.slp/, or my Teachers Pay Teachers Store https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/The-Whimsical-Word-Inc. I would love to share what I’m learning each day with other SLPs like you.
Would you like to know MORE about teletherapy, click here https://www.thewhimsicalword.com/single-post/2017/04/17/What-IS-a-Teletherapy-Platform