As teletherapy becomes increasingly common, many Speech-Language Pathologists’ curiosity is sparked by this new service delivery model. Along with having an interest, SLPs may also have a lot of questions about teletherapy. One common question is, “How can I be successful as a teletherapist?” As an SLP working in telepractice for more than five years, I’d like to share what I’ve learned to help answer this question for those considering a transition to online therapy.
To be successful with a career in teletherapy, SLPs must possess strong communication skills. While this is true of most jobs, teletherapists never have a single face-to-face encounter with a colleague, supervisor, administrator or parent for a quick chat about an issue or concern. When you never physically see another person, all communication must be deliberate through a multitude of different channels. SLPs working in telepractice must have strong written communication skills, as email is the most common form. It’s important to be clear and concise, but also amiable and professional. Many teletherapy companies also utilize some form of messaging system and/or discussion board for internal communication which SLPs can use to support one another. I have even found that text message communication with parents is often the most effective method for some families. Phone calls and video conferences are other important modalities for which SLPs in telepractice must use effectively. These forms of communication occur in real time and are important for facilitating connections with others. If your communication is solely written, parents and school staff may have a hard time envisioning you as a part of the team. Knowing the best type of communication to use in various situations and doing so with professionalism is imperative.
Another inherent characteristic of working from home without colleagues in proximity is that there may be less direct oversight of job performance. While teletherapists are still very much accountable for maintaining legally compliant IEPs and completing paperwork such as progress reports and evaluations, supervision is physically removed from the work place. SLPs that are successful in teletherapy are self-starters that can identify what needs to be completed and initiate those tasks independently.
Many SLPs are unsure of what therapy looks like when working with a student in a virtual therapy room where your trusty articulation cards cannot save the day- the horror! I know, I remember the feeling. Effective speech teletherapists must be innovative in finding new ways to engage students. Luckily, there are numerous digital and interactive therapy activities within reach on websites such as TeachersPayTeachers and Boom Learning. However, locating and utilizing digital resources requires some creative and out-of-the-box thinking for SLPs who may have previously leaned on board games and black and white worksheets for face-to-face therapy.
In many cases, speech teletherapists work with students in multiple districts, even in multiple states. When SLPs are involved with different districts, they must be organized in how they keep track of each district‘s processes and procedures. When working across state lines, the element of state specific eligibility and special education legislation must also be systematically tracked. Additionally, teletherapists often have multiple state licenses, each on different renewal cycles with different amounts and types of CEUs for different time increments. Some teletherapists prefer to plan sessions and take data on paper, while others utilize some form of digital system. While some of these organizational tasks can be tedious enough to make your head spin, fortunately there are some great free tools available on Teachers Pay Teachers to help track licenses, CEUs, and therapy data either on paper or digitally (links below).
Teletherapy Cross Licensing Organizer Editable by The Whimsical Word
Editable CEU Tracker- SLP and Teacher Freebie by Jill Shook SLP
SLP Therapy Grids for Planning and Notes by Stacy Crouse
No, you don’t need to be a "tech genius" in Silicon Valley to be a teletherapist. While a solid foundation of both computer hardware and software helps, it’s not the only way to become proficient with technology to perform the job well.. Most companies provide helpful training of their systems and troubleshooting techniques. SLPs must utilize these trainings and take the time to practice the steps that will be needed to do your job. Complete a “mock session” with a mentor, supervisor or colleague prior to the first session, and utilize tech support personnel and resource libraries whenever needed. Over time, and with proper willingness and preparation, most SLPs will feel proficient in managing the technology to complete therapy sessions and associated job duties.
While this list of ways to become a successful speech teletherapist is nowhere near exhaustive, it contains an introduction for SLPs that are considering a move into telepractice. With proper research, planning, and preparation I believe that most SLPs can be successful in transitioning from familiar face-to-face therapy settings into the lesser understood world of teletherapy.