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July 22, 2018 5 min read

What is Constructive Encouragement?

Enough with “Speech Shaming”, let’s try “Constructive Encouragement” Instead!

Last week my very good friend Maureen over at The Speech Bubble SLP published an excellent article addressing a growing problem in the social media world of SLPs, that of “Speech Shaming”. Some SLPs are reporting that they are growing fearful of asking questions in case they are publicly berated in the comments for lack of knowledge.

It’s an excellent article and you can read it in full here.

My own take on the issue is that the best antidote to “Speech Shaming” is a good old dose of “Constructive Encouragement!”

That’s right, not constructive criticism but constructive encouragement. If the concept is new to you, read on…

SLPs and Perfectionism

Like many of my fellow SLPs I struggle with self imposed high standards. Even perfectionism.

Not always a good thing is it?

And when you are a perfectionist, there is no bigger pit to fall into than the quest for Evidence Based Practice.

And as a digital product creator, perfectionism can be quite the challenge.

When I’m creating, I want to bring not only my hands-on experience and education to the project, but also the most up-to-date reviews of research. I strongly believe we have a duty to ensure the therapy we are doing has a solid base in evidence.

But lately I’ve realized something about research and evidence that has led me to conclude that Evidence Based Practice is a lifelong journey.

Neither you nor I can be perfect today.

For those of us with high standards, that’s a tough pill to swallow, isn’t it?

We can’t always make it perfect today.

I’ll actually go even further than that and suggest EBP is a “multi” lifelong journey. Even the most learned of professors won’t know and understand everything, even in a long and distinguished career.

Today’s evidence base will never be perfect, never be finished, and all SLPs will never agree and that is ok.

It’s the way it should be.

Enough with “Speech Shaming”, let’s try “Constructive Encouragement” Instead!

It means we don’t get too comfortable, we keep learning and striving to find the answers that are as yet undiscovered and we keep trying to do the best for our students.

At the end of a career, we will have made our mark, in our own way.

But do you know what, the next generation of SLPs will come along and discover something else.

They might even do as we have done and discover that there is a better way to do something that we consider is “evidence based best practice” today.

My Mother was an elementary teacher.

A very good one too.

She is retired now but she was my inspiration behind my choice of career and although she retired over 10 years ago now, I’m sure that over her 30-year career she shaped little minds and lives in so many positive ways.

But when I was studying for my exams in Speech Therapy I would tell her about the things I was learning.

Sometimes she would tell me that she felt guilty.

She felt guilty for not knowing, 20 years earlier that a child in her class could have been helped by this or by that – a piece of new EBP that I had learned and was sharing with her.

But how could she know?

She didn’t have a crystal ball to see the future.

You and I don’t have one either.

So, as a profession let’s be kind to each other.

Let’s strive for that gold standard of evidence that our students deserve.

Let’s never be done learning, but let’s not beat ourselves up about what we don’t yet know.

There are secrets that remain for the next generations to find.

Let’s hold space for things not to be perfect yet.

None of us should hold the responsibility individually, but together we do hold the responsibility of our generation of SLPs.

Let’s be supportive of each other in that.

Enough with “Speech Shaming”, let’s try “Constructive Encouragement” Instead!

Constructive Encouragement for SLPs

I follow a business mentor named Tara Gentile. She recently coined the term “Constructive Encouragement” in an article she wrote on the topic of encouraging others in business.

She describes how difficult it was to hear a business idol of hers give some unsolicited feedback on her business model – when he warned against the tendency for communities to descend into “useless cheerleading.”

Instead he advised that…“if a community could work hard to ensure that it supported truth — the reality of hard things, bad ideas, and uncomfortable next steps — then it could be useful.”

These are the principles that together, make for feedback that supports the concept of “constructive encouragement”.

  1. It’s specific
  2. It’s based on trust
  3. It’s clued into your goals
  4. It’s action-orientated
  5. It’s beyond basic
  6. It’s invested
  7. It’s personal

I encourage you to read the whole article. Whilst aimed at women entrepreneurs it equally resonates with SLPs and gets right to the heart of how we can support each other with the 7 key principles.

So how does all this relate to our striving for Evidence Based Practice in our therapy?

In many cases , the gold standard of systematic reviews is simply not available. In one example I studied recently, 11 studies were retrieved but all were single case studies.

When there is a lack of evidence it may be the case that there is not sufficient evidence – yet.

So a practicing clinician with an interest in this area must keep watching the developing evidence.

Constructive Encouragement

EBP is clearly not a static situation.

(and there are very few “perfect” clinicians out there;-) )

And yet EBP remains a hot topic with which to “bash” our colleagues, particularly on social media.

Meaningless cheerleading in a community helps no-one. But instead, how about a healthy dose of constructive encouragement?

Imagine a world where instead of making our SLP colleagues feel less, instead we pull together to break the evidence into bite sized, digestible pieces and feed it to the overwhelmed SLP?

Those with access/time/knowledge band together to form a stable base under that wobbly pyramid of cheerleaders.

Imagine that instead of shouting “be careful, you’re going to fall” we say “don’t worry, I’ve got you, this is what you need to do, I’ll hold your hand.”

Those who are strong in their knowledge and experience of EBP must hold space for the average clinician to learn and ask questions.

Those of us who can, must strive to translate the evidence into the practical – to keep it real without dumbing down.

We can say “there is evidence to support this method, you can find it here… also I used it in therapy and it worked like this…”.

In some situations it may be an impossible task, but I encourage you to try.

I think a healthy dose of constructive encouragement is just what the SLP community needs!

Other articles you might like to read…

Starting Speech Therapy Notebooks
Low Prep Speech Therapy Ideas