Changing your behavior is never easy. Whether starting a new exercise regimen or eating healthier, many of us have goals we’d like to achieve. As a speech therapist and clinical director at Better Speech, I work with clients to change their communication habits. I find that many of those we treat are very motivated to make the changes needed to achieve their goals, but these new habits can have a hard time sticking in the long term. On top of the difficulty in changing any behavior, there are many things that undermine our ability to alter our behaviors permanently.
Positive Attitude is Crucial for Success – in Communication and Life
One of the most important things that I and my colleagues have found that impact whether or not a client is able to make a permanent change to their behavior, is their mental attitude while working on their communication goals. These goals include adults who are interested in modifying their accent, teens trying to get a handle on a stutter or people recovering from a stroke that lost their ability to understand language or speak.
The changes required to make progress in any of these goals takes a lot of effort. It’s not easy to change how you have been communicating your whole life. Especially in communication issues like stuttering, when there is an emotional component, your thoughts and attitude towards progress have a huge impact. Often clients are extremely motivated to get started with speech therapy. They imagine what treatment will look like, and see themselves achieving these goals fairly easily. The strategies they may be presented with in speech therapy may seem simple, but making them a permanent part of their everyday communication proves to be a lot more difficult all of a sudden.
Clues that Negative Thoughts are Holding You Back
Once a client begins to think that they are not making progress as easily or as quickly as they anticipated, the negative thought patterns can spiral into thinking even more negative thoughts. We can often see a client’s frustration and disappointment during therapy. Sometimes clients may cry or cut sessions short. They may rush through a strategy or make excuses for not having practiced exercises we’ve given them to work on at home. They may hit a wall and can't imagine themselves getting past the hurdle to continue making improvements.
Don’t Ignore Your Negative Thoughts
As speech therapists we have several strategies that we use with our clients when this kind of situation presents itself. And they do present often. First and foremost, as therapists, we are trained to be good listeners. A client (and even the parent of a child client) comes in with so many expectations. They need a channel to express their ideas and emotions about the expectations and dreams with regards to their communication goals. So to be good listeners, we first need to listen to our clients’ negative thoughts about how they are doing. We don’t try to fix it. We don’t tell them to ignore their negative feelings and ideas. We stay with them in that space and allow them the opportunity to know that what they are feeling is normal and real.
When a client seems ready to move ahead, we can continue with treatment. Yet, it’s important not to ignore that the client has had these negative thoughts, because often, these thoughts come back. Sometimes, a client may not share with us that they have hit another wall. So luckily, we have strategies that we can share with them as to how they can use very simple techniques that they can adopt and help over time.
How to Start to Change Your Negative Thoughts
Here are two strategies used most often by me and the other speech therapists at Better Speech. They work to help change negative thoughts during treatment and give our clients the tools they need to continue down the sometimes-difficult road to achieving their goals.
Focus on the Positive
Instead of focusing on what you have not yet achieved in speech therapy, take a moment to focus your attention on what you have completed and achieved. When a client starts their session, we first take the opportunity to review all of the goals they have achieved. Even if there are only small pieces of a goal that have been achieved, it’s important to highlight them. For example, we might highlight the fact that an accent client is able to finally say one sound that they have been working on for a while. We might also discuss how a client who stutters is able to openly stutter in a situation that they have typically avoided. These are no small acts. Focusing on the positive helps clients see that they have come a long way.
Use Movement and Breathwork
We tend to hold a lot of our negative emotions and stressful thoughts in our body. What’s worse is that we do that so often during our day that we don’t even notice anymore that this is the status quo. A negative thought during a therapy session may just be piled up on others that have built up throughout the day. So we can physically disrupt the negative thoughts even if we cannot change or get rid of them. To help our clients get out of their head, we advocate clients get back into their body. For that, we use two techniques: breathwork and movement. During sessions, we model deep and full belly breathing. Usually just a few deep breaths can do the trick. To really get past the negative thoughts we have clients of all ages get out of their chair and start moving their body. Movements can be as simple as walking around the room, doing jumping jacks, or shaking their body and pairing it with good deep breaths. A few minutes dedicated to deliberately getting into your body, will get you out of your head.
At Better Speech, we advocate our client’s start their sessions with these strategies so that we can have them as a basis for a positive session. When we hear that our clients use these techniques for their speech goals, and to help them throughout their day, it makes our day! Originally published December 11, 2020, Morning Laziness
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