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Combining Speech Pathology and Counselling to Connect with People with Communication Impairments

Crystal Johnson, a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Columbia Speech and Language Services, uses her training as a speech pathologist to provide counselling to people with communication impairments.

She decided to get into counselling after seeing there weren't many resources available to meet the emotional needs of people having difficulty communicating.

"There were a lot of really unmet emotional needs for people. They would come in and they just had a stroke and I'd be working with them in acute care and although they were interested in pursuing speech therapy goals, they weren't really emotionally ready yet, they had just had their whole life turned upside down," says Crystal. "They weren't at a place where they were ready to dive into speech therapy."

Crystal believes addressing the emotional needs of people with communication impairments is crucial to helping them retain their sense of self.

"Communication is such a key element of our day-to-day lives," she says. "When there's any obstruction in our ability to communicate, I think it really challenges our very self-concept."

Another factor that motivated her to work with people with communication challenges was her own experience with the health care system. Crystal has Type One diabetes, which she says has given her a greater sense of empathy for her clients.

"I've seen what it's like and how hard it is to navigate the ups and downs of having a chronic health condition and how disempowering sometimes our system can be when you're trying to be your own advocate."

Crystal's compassion for her clients inspires her to treat them as people rather than just as patients. She likes to connect with her clients through humour to help build a relationship with them.

"Putting us both on the same team I find can be very helpful," she says.

Crystal works with people who have a variety of different communication impairments, including people with brain injuries. She says she's had the best success working with people with brain injuries by meeting them where they're at and allowing them to participate in setting their own goals.

"I think one of my frustrations with the health care system is sometimes it's very agenda-driven and the agenda is definitely set by the system, and I think better success in the clients I've worked with who have brain injuries is working with their agenda."

Crystal draws a lot of inspiration from Dr. Brené Brown, who did a TED Talk on shame and vulnerability.

"We have to be willing to be vulnerable and to own our own stories, even the parts we don't like. And to me that speaks to both how I want to live as a person and how I want to help my clients to be able to step into all the messy bits of the story and still say 'I'm still valuable and I can still be a valuable, worthwhile, contributing person, even with all my messy bits'."

You can watch the TED Talks by Dr. Brown here: