Part II: Principles of Heart & Soul Speech

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

            -Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, founder of Taoism, Father of Sustainability (ok, I added that one)

Honestly, the first time I heard that I didn’t realize just how significant it would be in my life. Now, I think of it almost daily and try to practice the principle in my work and my life. But let me tell you, it’s certainly not the easy way out. Just this morning, I realized it would be easier to spoon-feed my baby than give him the freedom of “spoon-feeding” himself. (Quotes because inevitably the spoon flies through the air and I clean applesauce off the walls for weeks after.) But I know my job as his parent is to give him the opportunity to practice and be successful in being independent with new skills.

What exactly is Sustainable Therapy?

I didn’t know what sustainable therapy was until my Clinical Fellowship (CF) mentor introduced me to the concept. Thanks, Ashley! Life. Changing.

To fully understand the concept of sustainability in therapy, let me tell you a story about a community in Africa. Groups of women would walk for 10 miles to the nearest well to wash clothes. A well-meaning organization came to the community and built a well in the middle of town, not more than 1/2 mile from every home, seemingly meeting the women’s need for a closer well. However, when the organization checked back in with the community leaders a year later, the women were still walking to the well that was miles away. Of course, there was some surprise, anger, and resentment felt by the organization leader. Why would the women be so ungrateful for their gift? Turns out, the women used the time walking 10 miles to bond with their children and other mothers in the community, educating and learning from each other. It was their routine, their paradise, and their life.

Often times, looking from the outside, one may perceive problems when in fact a solution is already being used successfully. When outsiders step in, often uninvited and without consulting the community first, we create solutions that are unsustainable. It may work for a while, but when we go back to our comfortable lives thinking we did a good deed, the community is left with cleaning up our mess.

How does Heart & Soul Speech participate in Sustainable Therapy?

As a speech-language pathologist and “outsider” to the family, I am a guest, graciously invited into another’s life. It is my responsibility to learn from the family first. After all, caregivers are the experts, remember? Incorporating new skills and information must compliment what is already in place. Supporting and coaching families and giving them tools to be successful will allow independence outside of therapy.

Working together to solve problems as partners creates sustainable therapy. Research tells us caregivers perceive advantages of “partnership programs” rather than “rigidly prescribed” programs (Novak, 2011). We also know that collaboration helps families help themselves, and thus allows them to have the control of their own future-and fish.

Be on the lookout for the final part of our series, Part III Principles of Heart & Soul Speech: Independence. Also, be sure to catch up on Part I: Empowerment if you missed it! Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

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