3 Ways to find (and own) your voice as an SLP
Finding your voice comes easy for some. Most of the clinicians (99% women) whom I’ve worked with have established a clinical voice with relative ease. I am always fascinated how they code switch from their therapy voice to their normal voice as the difference is often absurdly noticeable. This has always captivated me because I used to be so self-conscious of my own voice. It was a clunky, awkward experience not just finding my voice, but taking ownership of it.
I never recognized or examined the process of acquiring and owning your voice until I started teaching graduate students. One student mentioned how their CE keeps telling them they need to be louder and sound more enthusiastic. As she explained this, I had flashbacks from my own experiences... I shudder as I write this.
High affect drives learning. This is an axiom in our field and it is particularly important when working with special needs children. I have spoken in detail about why it is awkward for men in the field (more on that soon) and this is one area that really highlights that feature. When I learned about high affect in grad school, I remember how horrifically uncomfortable it made me feel. Feelings are the most salient feature of memories and the awkward feeling of having to provide “high affect” still makes my stomach turn and palms sweat.
I did not own this concept until I found my voice. But the process wasn’t like learning an instrument or even trying different variables until one combination made sense, it came from taking ownership. When you take ownership, then it becomes authentic. The lesson here is:
High affect drives learning, that is an axiom. But let me clarify, sincere affect drives learning. That makes everyone (client, therapist, colleague) feel empowered… not like they need to burn their clothes and take a shower.
Don’t just act sincere, be sincere.
I tell my grad students, you can’t sound sincere if you aren’t. You can’t fake it forever and anyone that has worked with children or even has children of their own can tell you that gig is up pretty fast. Everyone has a B.S. detector, especially children, special needs or not. Determining a person’s sincerity is a survival feature. It is a part of our lizard brain to scrutinize the tone of an individual to determine whether they care or are trying to manipulate you. Kids usually don’t care how awkward you sound, especially if they get the sticker at the end of the session, however, it is completely unsustainable to have such feelings of dread every time you use your voice. Remember, your voice is a superpower not an anchor on your soul.
Fake it till you make it but don’t fool yourself.
You can fake many things to turn them into a reality. But when it comes to finding and owning your voice, some have had success in trying on different tones and then adjusting as needed. The real mastery comes in awareness. If you are faking it, you need to be aware that you are doing this. There is a difference between faking it and fooling yourself. Faking it involves self-scrutiny and evaluation whereas fooling yourself is just getting to the end of a session. Awareness is everything, which is why every SLP (everyone really) should meditate. You can find more on that here. You find your voice when you are no longer thinking about how you sound and it bends to your command.
Confidence is everything.
This has always been tough for me. I was never a confident person. In my adolescence, I made the mistake of thinking arrogance was confidence and decided to not present with neither. It took me decades to reprogram this part of my brain. Confidence is something that grows with experience. As you grow as a clinician, and you transmute your mistakes into competence, you will find your voice has more certainty to it. You own your voice when you are confident in what you are saying. Be patient with that process and never stop evaluating yourself. I own my voice, but I lose it sometimes. I know that when I lose it because I am not longer confident in what I am saying. My tone changes, the fry comes out, the volume goes down, the uhhh umm dysfluencies creep in. When I am aware of these things, I become grounded. I fall back on confidence to return my voice.
Understand that being able to use your voice productively is a superpower. It is what you use to navigate the world. The cliché is true: It’s not what you say but how you say it. There is great value in this. Find it and own it.