We sat down with Sheri Jennings, M.S., CCC-SLP, to dive into her background and experience, clinical approach, inspiration for becoming a speech therapist, and more. You can read more about Sheri here.
Can you spend a few minutes talking about your experience and background as a speech therapist?
I have worked as a therapist in public schools, private clinics, home health, early childhood intervention, stroke recovery, and a residential treatment center for adults with traumatic brain injury (TBI). I worked as a SLP-Assistant for six years, providing treatment for adults and children in a range of settings before beginning my masters program at NOVA Southeastern University. I continued to work as a SLP-Assistant, providing therapy to a range of clients during my masters study, and I took a home health position in pediatrics following completion of my masters degree. In total, I have been providing speech-language therapy for nearly 10 years.
I have found success and joy in treating clients with a range of backgrounds. I served families in Spanish and English in home health, created treatment plans for adults recovering from stroke using neurological music therapy techniques, and helped adults recovering from TBI to be successful in achieving independence through job skills training and cognitive treatment. Most recently, I have expanded my clinical practice to include treatment of feeding and swallowing disorders. Throughout each experience, I have most commonly assisted clients with fluency, language, and motor-speech difficulties.
Why did you decide to become a speech therapist?
I became a speech-language pathologist because I wanted to be part of a helping profession and speech-language pathology offers a wide spectrum of practice requiring creativity and human connection. There is an art to therapy, and I consider myself to be an artist!
What areas of speech-language pathology interest you most?
I enjoy delving into each area in my scope of practice! As a vocal major in my undergraduate degree, treatment of voice is especially close to my heart. I am also fascinated with fluency treatment and the psychological aspects therein, having had some great success stories with teaching volitional control over communication for clients with fluency disorders. I find cognitive therapy to be extremely interesting, as cognition is the basis for all communication. Language disorders can be influenced by cognitive ability, so I often determine cognitive strengths and weaknesses when creating treatment plans for individuals with difficulties related to language processing. Most recently, feeding and swallowing have become new areas of interest for me.
What part of your job do you find most enjoyable?
I find that human connection is the most enjoyable aspect of my job. Each area of speech-language pathology relates to personal connection. In this way, it is my responsibility to create a partnership with my clients, ensuring that treatment is individualized and realistic. When I can connect with someone to bring about positive change to their quality of life, I have achieved something far more valuable than simply fulfilling job duties. I am honored to be a part of improving the lives of others.
Among all the clients you’ve taught throughout your career, is there a particular success story that stands out in your mind?
I can think of several success stories over the course of my career. One that comes to mind right now is a client I worked with in stroke recovery. This client was an ER nurse and her stroke had left her with aphasia, apraxia, and unilateral paralysis. When I first met her, she could only express herself through single words and body language, and she had lost hope for recovery.
Over the course of treatment, I developed augmentative communication devices for her, counseled her on her strengths, and devised a plan through mutual discussion for daily practice to retrain motor-speech connections so that she could produce speech more easily. We also worked on semantic associations and VNeST training for rehabilitating her language abilities. After four months, she went from speaking in single word utterances and using gestures to 3-4 word phrases with far fewer word-finding difficulties. She was an extremely strong and dedicated woman who was brave enough to recover hope and work towards improving her quality of life. I am thankful to have worked with her.
How do you assess and monitor your clients’ progress?
Client progress is an ongoing, organic process. It is never a straight, upward-sloping line. Consequently, monitoring, formal or informal, must be done on a regular basis. An integral part of my clinical philosophy is teaching internal motivation and goal-setting. I work with my clients to create goals that they feel are appropriate and realistic. I use personal reflection and discussion following activities to show my clients how to self-monitor. These are informal, but extremely important, processes for monitoring progress. Formally, I keep data during each therapy session to track the effectiveness of therapy strategies and to inform decisions about treatment. I share data with my clients and discuss their thoughts related to areas of strength and areas that could use more focus. I often use norm-referenced and criterion-referenced assessments to periodically assess progress after a specific amount of time, as indicated by the therapy goals I co-write with my clients.
What attracted you to online speech therapy?
Online speech therapy provides access to clients who may not otherwise be able to receive speech-language intervention due to proximity, transportation, or other factors. Specifically, online speech therapy through Expressable is offered at a rate that is very near what the co-pays are for specialists through insurance. What a wonderful idea!
What are your hobbies or passions outside of speech therapy?
I am a musician, so I spend a lot of time playing piano, guitar, and ukulele. I write and record music on the weekends with my husband, who plays bass. We just relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is not quite so punishing as in Texas, so I have recently joined a community garden and I will be growing fruits and veggies for the food donation program here in Portland. I also adore food! I cook nearly every day, and I am always excited to experiment with new ingredients. I grew up in the hill country in Texas, where we had a veritable petting zoo, and animals have always been a big part of my life. We have two dogs and a cat, who hang out with me throughout the day.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I have one teenaged son who has struggled with the demands of public school due to his own special needs. I understand the stress of raising a child who needs more attention than most, so connecting with the parents of my pediatric clients is very important to me. I spend a lot of time counseling caregivers and sharing tools for supporting loved ones through difficulty. Therapy is more than just a collection of activities, it is personal connection. That is something I never take lightly.