The Pursuit of Happiness
by Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP
“Happiness Intervention” is not a concept that speech-language therapists learn about in their graduate studies. OK, I admit that I made that term up. However, we do expect our student’s quality of life indicators to improve as they work through their communication challenges over time. The increased happiness is implied as part of the end result. So, what do we do when that clearly is not enough to change student’s negative thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and their successful outcomes? Further, how do we help our highly sensitive students that have a lot of negative self-talk, and feel like a failure with every little mistake?
First: Strongly encourage the family to follow up with their school counselor, and school psychologist. Help the family find referrals to a child psychologist or therapist in their insurance network.
Second: Consider how the child’s negative thoughts and feelings are hindering their participation in therapy. Engage the parents to help identify their “stinking thinking” and re-direct back to stubbornly trying to figure it out.
It may be helpful to list which learning concepts that student has the most trouble with, and how that affects their mood and “stinking thinking.” Consider that when children struggle with a concept in therapy, they will have even more trouble using that concept in the classroom. Failure in school feeds their negative self-talk, and reinforces false beliefs about their intelligence and abilities.
Third: Work with the staff and the child’s family to create a personalized affirmation for that student. Give them a large copy, and several smaller affirmations to place in different places around their home. Encourage the child and family to say it every day. Here is our example:
“I am OK. I can settle my body and mind. No Stinking Thinking.”
Finally: Continue to monitor the child’s responses in therapy and praise growth, look for ways to genuinely compliment the child’s efforts and little successes.
I happened to introduce the above affirmation to a second grade student on a day that he was running late, and he said he was so angry at the cars (they were in heavy traffic). I told him he did a good job figuring out how he feels. We used the “Settle Your Glitter” app and practiced mindful breathing, and he calmed down nicely.
After that, we read his affirmation together and talked about the concepts. He said “I’m never happy.” I replied, “I can tell that you are not happy a lot of the time, and I want to help you with that. I don’t want your unhappiness to make it harder for you to learn.”
In the private practice setting, we can do solid intervention work with a “whole child intervention” focus. We help our students identify their barriers to learning. We experiment with different strategies to help them move through barriers as they are learning new skills and tools in therapy.
Always remember, your ultimate super-power is the ability to affect change in other’s lives, to even change the entire trajectory of children’s and family’s lives.
That is an amazing gift, use it often, and use it wisely.