In the world we’re living in, it’s hard not to have some knowledge of mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment.
A more in depth definition… It is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
But no matter how you describe it or define it, it’s clear that mindfulness has a plethora of benefits to our health and well-being… and as you’ll read soon, speech and language therapy.
Physical benefits include the following:
- boost energy levels
- improves sleep
- reduces chronic pain
- calms the body
- improves metabolism
Mental benefits are abundant too:
- relieves stress and anxiety
- increases patience
- better focus and productivity
- helps you to feel more connected
- improves mood and happiness
So, What Does This Have To Do With Speech and Language?
Years ago I became interested in wellness and ways to improve my personal well-being. This quickly seeped into my job as a speech language pathologist.
Besides all the great physical and mental benefits of mindfulness, I found there are also so many wonderful ways for speech language pathologists to incorporate mindfulness into their sessions, and countless benefits for our clients.
Specifically, research has been done on the benefits of mindfulness on students in the school setting, that have been diagnosed with a range of disorders, including Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity. Benefits included improved executive function, memory, attention, increased numbers on standardized tests, better grades, improved engagement with peers, social skills, and self esteem, as well as compliance and school attendance.
Then, I took my research a step further. Through my deep dive into speech language pathology and the “wellness” sphere, I found one important takeaway: practices that successfully reduce stress and anxiety can have a positive impact on everyone, but especially those who stutter.
The disorder of stuttering is associated with many problems. Besides physical speech disruptions such as blocks, sound prolongations, and word repetitions, people who stutter may experience negative thoughts and emotions related to communication, be subjected to negative stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, as well as victimization and bullying. These problems may be related to and/or cause increased anxiety levels.
A review of the literature reveals that there is considerable overlap between what is required for effective stuttering management and the benefits provided by various mindfulness practices.
What Does Mindfulness in Speech Therapy Look Like?
Mindfulness can work in many ways, including to decrease avoidance of anxiety inducing situations or particular sounds the client knows they will stutter on, emotional reactivity, as well as the physical manifestations brought on by stuttering (i.e., head shake, noisy breathing, foot tapping).
Mindfulness training may benefit persons who stutter through improving sensory feedback and attentional focus believed to be necessary for fluent speech production (Boyle, 2011).
This can come to life a few different ways in practice… but all are set up to do 3 things… (1) increase the client’s ability to sustain attentional focus, (2) teach the client the difference between thinking about sensations and experiencing them directly, and (3) teach clients to relate differently to thoughts and feelings.
Ideas for Mindfulness and Speech Therapy
Let’s put it into practice…
First, awareness of everyday activities. One great example is the “5 senses” game, in which you take a piece of food and describe it using all five senses. But this can really be done with any activity, including washing the dishes, taking a bath or shower, or walking around the neighborhood.
Another is activities for awareness of breath. When you’re worried, upset, or anxious, you can feel it viscerally (i.e., fast heart beat, sweaty palms). The system responsible for this is your sympathetic nervous system, better known as your “fight or flight” response.
To interrupt this stress response it’s helpful to power up the parasympathetic nervous system, by turning on the vagus nerve. Deep breathing can activate the vagus nerve, which can stimulate your body’s relaxation response, slow down your heart rate, relieve emotional distress, improve mood, lower blood pressure, and help center our thoughts.
Something to try: Create a “three minute breathing space” to activate the vagus nerve in session (and encourage clients to do this at home), where the focus is breathing deeply in through your nostrils, filling your belly up, holding it for 3-4 seconds, and releasing out through your mouth.
Next is body scan, which involves bringing focused attention to various parts of the body.
- Attention is given to a certain part of the body.
- It’s held in awareness for a brief time to explore any sensations that arise in that area.
- Awareness is let go before focusing attention on the next region.
Other ways speech language therapists might incorporate mindfulness into a speech therapy session include the following: 1. changing one’s relationship to their thoughts, through viewing thoughts as images flashing on a movie screen. 2. creating an action plan for possible relapse through list making, deep breathing and then making a choice of what to do based on what has been helpful in the past.
Some of my personal favorites to incorporate in a speech and language therapy session are:
- MEDITATION, for approximately 3-5 minutes to ground into the space
- BREATHING BUDDIES, such as a favorite stuffed animal
- YOGA, especially with children, to bring awareness into the body
- mentally focused activities like the GLITTER JAR and BUBBLES
Paired with skilled direct treatment, practicing mindfulness in the form of meditation, awareness of breath activities, mentally focused exercises, and any other activity that brings you and/or your child into the present moment and reduces stress/anxiety, can help those who stutter.
Sol Speech and Language Therapy aims to incorporate all of these practices into our therapy sessions. Feel free to explore our website for more information and get in touch here if you have any questions.
If you’re ready to take the next step, reach out today for a free phone consultation.Sol Speech & Language Therapy
6448 E Hwy 290 Suite E-106,
Austin, TX 78723
Sol Speech & Language Therapy is located in sunny Austin, Texas and offers personalized skilled intervention to those struggling with their speech and language skills. Services offered include screening, consultation, and comprehensive evaluation. We also provide one-on-one and/or group therapy for speech sound disorders, receptive/expressive language delay/disorder, stuttering/cluttering, accent reduction, and much more.