In March this year, I once again accepted an invitation from the Reading Students SLT society. A second visit requesting the same topic – Transgender & Gender Diverse Voice. It’s a bit of a trek, especially for an after work, volunteer gig but I steered myself there, with the help of Great Western Railway and a taxi driver totally baffled by the sprawling university campus. I went in response to the SLT students steering themselves to learn about this field. A feedback form was sent to the students society after the presentation. One response to ‘why did you request this topic’ was: ‘it feels like a gap in our teaching’. A similar feeling led to UCL students requesting a trans voice lecture from their faculty. Students, once again steering a way. The importance of training reflecting diverse client populations cannot be underestimated.
In approximately one hour time allocation, including questions, (the same as I am given for the curriculum embedded lecture at UCL), the question is: ‘what to include and what to omit?’ I’m seasoned at making time-pressured judicious choices, to place trans voice work both in the highly specialist voice remit it requires yet in the realistic context it often finds itself in. The first obvious realistic context is the time allocation. Another is, that in the last five years, many gender services are increasingly challenged and by far not least, SLT NHS services.
I can’t help but structure a talk to cover fundamental aspects whilst never omitting the opportunity for providing insight into direct therapy, how this can be applied and the difference in can make to people’s lives. For me, it is the ultimate point of what we do. When students seek to enter training to be an SLT, this is the dominating call. It was for me. I didn’t know which client groups I would specialise in, I just knew I wanted to make a difference.
I’ve yet to meet a student who says to me ‘I really want to be a speech therapist to do a management job where I have 0% time allocation for direct clinical work with clients/patients.’ That might be something that evolves / becomes a desire along the way but it isn’t usually the initial call. Students want to know what we do, at least some of the ways we do it and the range of possible outcomes.
Not all our client interventions make an impact but my experience is that the majority do, both direct and indirect. Demonstrating successful outcomes is always appreciated by students, including subjective ratings by service users and objective measures by clinicians. In voice work, however, it would be most remiss to not demonstrate perceptual voice changes when voice change was the client’s overarching goal. Nothing I ever say makes a stronger impression than techniques demonstrated and ‘before and after’ voices played.
One presentation can be pivotal to influencing a student’s career. It is always a nice moment when, years later, a student tells you how one lecture they attended ignited their interest in voice. ‘Thank you ‘and feeling ‘inspired’ were further themes of their feedback forms. If one student is appreciative and /or inspired that’s a potential SLTs life touched- an SLT who may go on to touch the lives of many other individuals. Some of those future clients might have a trans identity. So, for me, culture diverse training is foundational. It is building on a solid base to ensure inclusion for all.
As the Reading SLT students helped to steer me out of the university campus maze, I wondered whether one or two of them would steer themselves in the direction of a career in voice. Their feedback forms indicated that they wanted the opportunity to learn about areas of work they could potentially specialise in post qualification so maybe one day they’ll let me know.
Tips to get into voice
- Find clinical placements and observation opportunities.
- Volunteering (SLT dept./clinic that has a Voice service)
- Courses (look out for student rates and grants)
- Clinical Excellence Networks (CENs)
If you want to read more:
- Davies, S., Papp, V.G. and Antoni, C. (2015). Voice and Communication Change for Gender Nonconforming Individuals: Giving Voice to the Person Inside. International Journal of Transgenderism, 16(3), pp.117–159. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/15532739.2015.1075931.
- Voice and Communication Therapy for the Transgender/Transsexual Client, ed’s Richard K. Adler, Sandy Hirsch, Michelle Mordaunt (Plural Publishing)
- Transsexual and Other Disorders of Gender Identity, Ed. James Barrett (Radcliffe) (includes a chapter on The Role of The Speech & Language Therapist)
- The Voice and it’s Disorders by Greene and Matthieson, (Whurr Publishers)
- Voice work, Art & Science in Changing Voices by Christina Shewell, (Wiley-Blackwell)
If you want to read and hear more: