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Is speech pathology a stressful job

ASHA’s Schools Survey identified important considerations for SLPs seeking employment, including large amount of paperwork, high workload/caseload size, limited time for collaboration, working conditions, low salary and professional environment. Each presents its own barriers related to recruitment and retention of qualified SLPs in school settings.

Low Salaries

ASHA’s Schools Survey indicated that low salaries continue to be one of the greatest challenges faced by school-based SLPs. Although the salaries of school-based SLPs seem to be on the rise, salary is often a factor in job selection and may play a role in successful recruitment and retention.

Difficult Working Conditions

Historically, inadequate or unacceptable working conditions have discouraged SLPs from signing on and staying in the schools.

School-based SLPs listed their top five greatest challenges as follows:

  • Large amount of paperwork
  • High workload/caseload size
  • Volume of meetings
  • Limited time for collaboration
  • Limited family/caregiver involvement and support.

See the  SLP Workforce and Work Conditions report for more information.

Research on Job Satisfaction

Various studies and surveys by professionals in the field have reported factors that influence the recruitment and retention of SLPs in school settings:

The Critical Shortage of Speech-Language Pathologists in the Public School Setting
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools

A questionnaire was distributed to SLPs employed in 10 school districts in Central Florida. The primary goal of the questionnaire was to elicit the perspectives of school-based SLPs regarding:

  • Factors in the work environment that contribute to retention—participants ranked working with children, school schedule, educational setting, and working with an experienced mentor as primary contributions
  • Factors in the work environment that hinder retention—workload, role ambiguity, salary, and caseload were primary contributions for dissatisfaction

Perceptions of Job Stress and Satisfaction Among School-Based SLPs: Challenges Versus Rewards
SIG 16 Perspectives on School-Based Issues

Specific demographic, caseload, and employment factors that may contribute to job stress and employment satisfaction were examined by surveying SLPs in school settings in Michigan during the 2003-2004 school year. In general, school-based SLPs reported high levels of job satisfaction, and relatively low levels of job stress. SLPs reported being more challenged by employment factors than by student-related issues.

  • Top three rewards—seeing students achieve their goals, working and interacting with students, and collaboration with colleagues
  • Top three challenges—paperwork (consistent predictor of job stress), workload/time constraints, and caseload size

Benefits and Characteristics of Mentoring Students and Young Professionals
SIG 11 Perspectives on Administration and Supervision

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Mentoring has been cited in the literature as an effective factor in helping teambuilding in the workplace, retaining of new staff, fostering leadership development, and improving job satisfaction.

Speech-Language Pathologist Job Satisfaction in School Versus Medical Settings
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools

A job satisfaction survey was sent to SLPs in medical and school settings. SLPs in both settings reported to be generally satisfied in their jobs, but SLPs in medical settings had significantly higher satisfaction scores. SLPs in school settings reported high levels of satisfaction with the nature of work, and lowest ratings for operating conditions and promotion.

What Makes a Caseload (Un)Manageable? School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists Speak
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools

This study was conducted with public school SLPs from across the country to identify current mean caseload size for school-based SLPs, a threshold at which caseload size begins to be perceived as unmanageable, and variables contributing to school-based SLPs’ feelings of caseload manageability. Conclusions:

  • Caseload range of 56-60 students—approximately 59% of SLPs perceived their caseload as unmanageable
  • Caseload range of 46-50 students—approximately 39% of SLPs perceived their caseload as unmanageable
  • Caseload range of 41-45 students—approximately 20% of SLPs perceived their caseload as unmanageable
  • For SLPs with larger caseloads, years of experience and extent of collaboration were predictors of caseload unmanageability

I don’t think I have met an SLP or any educator for that matter that has said, “Stress. That never happens to me.” Working as a school SLP is very stressful. Raise your hand if you feel like a “stressed out SLP”!? Today, I wanted to talk about chronic stress on the SLP and how it can effect our well being and job performance. Some of the biggest “stresses” with the job of  an SLP is the paperwork, managing IEP’s, planning and conducting therapy and progress monitoring all of your students on your caseload. There have been days when I have wanted to cry, hide and go get my job back at Starbuck’s.

Chronic stress on the SLP and how to manage it all.Chronic stress on the SLP and how to manage it all.

Acute stress vs. chronic stress

Stress is how our body and brain reacts to any demand that is placed on us. SLPs have lots of demands placed on them, hence, why we are stressed lol. Acute stress is caused by those unpredictable events or situations that happen outside of our control. When we experience acute stress, our bodies release hormones to help our bodies/brains deal with the situation. For example, we may have acute stress from running an intense IEP meeting or having to write three speech reports in a week.

Chronic stress is caused from situations and events that are repeatedly happening to us, resulting in the release of the stress hormones. Many scientists feel that the human body was not designed to endure constant stress. When our bodies over produce the stress hormone, it can have negative affects on our bodies. Examples of chronic stress could be going through a divorce, while having to manage a caseload of 70 with many IEP meetings, not having supportive co-workers and trying to raise two children on your own.

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When To Know You Have Chronic Stress

Stress is a funny term because as an SLP community, I think we often associate stress as a negative impact on our lives. Research shows that stress can be good if it helps us to be more productive. It is when we have hit our level of “overwhelm” that stress begins to negatively impact us. There is a fine balance of allowing stress in our jobs and personal lives. When we do not manage our stress, it can impact our lives significantly. Furthermore, stress is very personal to the individual. That being said, stress varies from person to person and that feeling of “overwhelm” may look different from one SLP to another.

Below is a list of different symptoms that people with chronic stress may be exhibiting. This may help you gauge if you are managing your stress well. Exhibiting many of these symptoms may mean that you are dealing with chronic stress in your life.

chronic stress on SLP- how the effects of chronic stress can really impact your well being.chronic stress on SLP- how the effects of chronic stress can really impact your well being.

Why is chronic Stress Harmful

Chronic stress impacts our mind and body. It can begin to rob us of the physical and emotional things we want to enjoy in life.

Chronic stress on the SLPChronic stress on the SLP

How Chronic Stress Impacted Me

I took some time this year to reflect on the BIG stresses in my life and made an action plan for how I was going to manage the stress until the end of the school year. I know that MUCH of my stress were external factors that were out of my control and I needed to find a better way to survive. When I looked at the list of symptoms, I as exhibiting some insomnia, memory issues, mild depression and physical body aches and pains. I loved reading this post about the 5 Year Burn Out from the Queen’s Speech. It really gave me some good perspective about my job as an SLP and as a person.

Solutions To Help Reduce Chronic Stress

  • Advocate for your needs. Let your employer know that you are overwhelmed and need assistance.
  • Acting as if you can complete all the job tasks in a reasonable work day only makes administration think YOU can do the job successfully.
  • Exercise at least 3 times a week. This has helped me release my stress and manage my weight and eating better. I have more energy for my job and my focus has improved.
  • Limited coffee or energy drinks. I will admit that I have not given up coffee, but I reduced my intake of caffeine. When the effects of caffeine wear off, you can feel sleepy and sluggish.
  • Boost your mood. I have a music ready to play at the end of the day or when I have to cook dinner. Find something that helps boost your mood.
  • Work on getting a good night’s rest. I try to turn off the electronics an hour before bed and read a book and/or the bible. Sleep makes all the difference and stimulating your brain with TV or computer doesn’t help your body get ready for sleep.
  • Get organized. Invest time to set up systems and ways for your to stay on top of everything in your job and life. When you plan ahead, you reduce a lot of stress.
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SLPs need to remember to take care of themselves

Most SLPs got into this field because they wanted to help people. We are naturally giving spirits and often put others first before ourselves. I think it is a very admirable quality, but when we don’t remember ourselves, we chip away at that giving, loving spirit. You don’t know how hard it has been for me to put these next steps of advice into place, but I have and continue to work on these things.

  • Let your YES be YES and your NO be NO. Don’t commit to something that internally you don’t have the time to complete. People pleasing will get you in a negative mindset and causes you to busy up your life. You can read about my 10 Phrases Every SLP should say at work to help with setting boundaries at work.
  • Seek counseling or some sort of support group. I attended some counseling sessions to help with the stress in my life and also went to a bible study that was geared towards drawing me back to relying on God for support in times of trials and STRESS.
  • Do something YOU enjoy every day……I take a hot shower to help ease my mind, hang with my kids, chill with my hubby, and listen to music when I need to revive my spirit.
  • Laugh….I am trying to find the joy of laughter in my students, my kids, on youtube, talking with friends, reading funny books and watching movies that will give me a laugh. Laughter relieves stress, so put more in your life!!

When your current STRESS isn’t going away any time soon

Accept what you can or cannot do, cry, whine, and moan for a few minutes with a friend. Then, make a plan for how you are going to get through the stress. Don’t let your workload stay the same for next year!! Make the necessary changes now even if that means looking for new employment. With the help from your admin, you may be able to or reduce or change your assignment. This are all easier said that done, so make sure you have great friends that are there for you along the way!

How do you manage stress? What advice could you give to an incoming CFY for how to start their career off right?

Sources: Human Stress, National Institute of Mental Health