Recently, I have been seeing tons of questions and posts in FB groups from brand new SLP’s, in their CFY, who are completely overwhelmed. Many of these professionals are lacking the confidence of a seasoned SLP or are just looking for a bit of reassurance on their choice of evaluation tool or therapy materials. But it’s not just because they feel new and aren’t as confident in their skills as a clinician yet. For many more, it is because they feel a lack of support, have way too much work and their caseloads are out of control.
My personal CF story is a little confusing. I had three different jobs between the time I graduated and the time I earned my CCC’s. I left one position a month before my CF was to be completed, because my supervisor had forgotten to renew her license and I was docked 3 months of my CF, plus I had to go to the board to determine my case. I had otherwise felt very supported and that my workload was good, although I often felt I wasn’t really helping anyone or doing enough for my patients. It didn’t give me enough of a challenge or push to do grow as a new SLP.
I ended up at another position, where I was still had a lot of support. It was a former clinical placement of mine, so I already was familiar with the staff and the facilities. It was a fantastic place to finish my CFY, but I was looked at as a student, even after earning my CCC’s. I probably would have stayed there for a few years, but was laid off after a year.
My first job, though, is the one that really could have done me in if I had not left. I was contracted into a school district and worked at a school 45 minutes (without traffic) from my home. I was the sole SLP at that facility, so I had no one to help me figure out the basics, like how to find my caseload, where was the info for the IEPs, what materials did I have, what is the best way to set up groups, how do I contact the teachers, how should I set up my room, etc. My CFY supervisor was at another school over 60 minutes further from my home and was incredibly unhelpful. She was pleasant and was kind enough to take on a CF, but she was not very involved and relied on me to take charge of getting my paperwork filled out and knowing what needed to be done.
I was so overwhelmed already and this made it so very much worse. I started to feel sick to my stomach and would have panic attacks. I also felt my introverted side take over and would often just hide in my speech room, trying to figure it all out solo, because no one told me it was ok to ask for help. I ended up quitting a week before school started and was screamed at over the phone by my company. I don’t think I will ever forget how lonely and scary that time was.
If you are a new SLP, are a CF or have recently obtained your CCC’s, or you are supervising a CF, there are a few things you can do to make that first year more manageable and enjoyable.
Here is my advice:
- Breathe. It seems silly, but take a second to catch your breath and get out of panic mode. It will help you see things clearer, even when they are completely overwhelming and chaotic. If you are feeling stressed and panicked, sit for a moment with your eyes closed. Simply notice your breath and, one you are feeling more calm, start to deepen your breath. Repeat to yourself “Inhale” as you breathe in, and “Exhale” as you breath out. You can also try a guided meditation here.
- Caseload. That is HUGE, especially for a newbie. When I first started as a CF, I had no support. I didn’t understand how to make a schedule or bill or figure out my students needs or caseload size. My supervisor was 60 minutes away and I was alone, so I ended up quitting. I don’t think you should have to do that. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of students you are to see, reach out to someone. Do you have a CF supervisor or anther SLP in your school/district you can go to with your questions? There should be someone who can help you figure out how to manage it a little bit better.
- It is ok to feel overwhelmed and like you have no idea what you are doing. You are brand new and many people STILL feel this way. It is unfortunately part of the compassionate nature of our career – we always want to do more for people. It will get easier and even just a few moments of speech a day can do wonders for those kiddos. Just knowing you care is sometimes the most important part to them.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Advocate for yourself. Let your supervisors and principal know that you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help. Tell them you feel that you are not able to be effective with these students and you want some guidance or advice in how to schedule, how to lessen your caseload or how to group students better/time manage. PS There is a really great scheduling CEU/webinar on YappGuru SLP Summit.
- You are making a difference. I quit the schools (it was the final straw that broke me when I went through burn out) because I felt that I did nothing for my students all day. Now, as a mom, I see that even the smallest gesture or tiniest bit of therapy can make a big difference in the lives of these kiddos. It might not necessarily be the exact goal you are trying to “cure”, but you might improve their lives in other ways.
- Stop planning so much. I went through yoga teacher training (I know, so not the same as speech therapy) and learned a really good strategy. Make you brain a “rolodex” for your sessions. As long as you have a base for pretty much every goal/disorder, you can plan in no time. For yoga, it meant knowing which poses linked together easily to create flow – I never planned a session in 5 years. For speech, it means knowing which games or activities you can pull out, without having to plan, create or do tons of prep. Not everything has to be a huge project. Kids love flashcards, videos and games. Most therapists I know that have survived many years and still love it are the ones that have cut back on planning.
- For paperwork, don’t worry about it being perfect. Get done what you can. If they need more, they’ll send it back to you and let you know what needs to be corrected. And that is absolutely ok.
- Make time for you. Eat lunch, drink water, breathe, get up and move, leave on time. You NEED these in your life to manage the stress, keep your head clear (aka a better therapist) and stick with this for the long term.
If you are feeling overwhelmed as a new SLP, please reach out for help. Leave a comment below for answers, join our FB group, sign up for the (free) SLP Toolbox or even schedule a consultation with me – I’d love to talk it over with you. You’ve got this and you already are an amazing SLP, just trust in yourself, take care of yourself and ask for guidance when you need it.