Trisha Ray, CCC-SLP, first became an SLP in 2010 and held several different positions before becoming a teletherapist. She worked in an autism-based school for 4 or 5 years and she did some outpatient therapy as well—all pediatrics. Trisha got her BA in elementary education and right after college started substitute teaching. She hated it. She wanted a full time teaching job but was having a lot of trouble because the market was really saturated. While subbing, she met an SLP and realized that was a great fit for her—it would let her differentiate herself in a crowded market, and she could work one-on-one with students—so she went back to school to do the required supplementary coursework and went on to grad school to become an SLP. Trisha currently lives in Cleveland where she’s been for the last 10 years. Before that, she lived in Western Pennsylvania. She’s a mother of two young children Ava and Abigaill, ages 3 ½ and 1.
Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?
I have two kids so they’re keeping me very busy. We wake up early—around 6 in the morning. We do our normal morning routine and then I usually get them out the door and over to my sitter by 9. I try to get started around 9 or 9:30 my time. It works out very nicely since this year I am only working with students in Arizona (a 2-3 hour time difference depending on whether it’s Daylight Savings Time or Eastern Standard Time). I like to do a little paperwork in the morning. As part of my role as a PL provider, I supervise an onsite SLPA (speech assistant) in Arizona as well. She provides therapy services. I have to observe her so many hours a week and then I have to do her paperwork and any evaluations that come about for her so I have a lot of paperwork for her to do all the time.
It’s nice to have that time in the morning to catch up and answer emails because emails are constant. After that, I usually plan for my day, whatever student sessions I have, drink a little tea. I typically get started with meetings around noon and do sessions most of the day. I try to leave a half hour here and there so I can write some notes. I try to finish up around 5 o’clock my time so I can get the kids, do dinner and baths, and put everyone in bed. And sometimes when the kids are in bed, I’ll do whatever leftover work I have to do. I work 4 days a week this year. Last year I worked 5 days.
What’s your caseload like? Age groups of students you’re serving?
I have middle schoolers on my caseload—so 6th through 8th grade. In years past I had some elementary schools too. I’ve actually had this middle school group since I started with PL. This is my 3rd year. It’s been fun to see the progress with them. They know me and I know them so they’re comfortable with me. It’s nice.
What made you want to be a teletherapist with PL?
I had always been curious about teletherapy and wanted a way that I could work closer to home after having my first child. I like technology and I’m very comfortable with it. It was the perfect opportunity to test it out and to use my technology skills.
What do you enjoy about being a provider with PL?
I love the fact that I am able to help provide services to students that would not otherwise receive services or the services would be sparse. It has been exciting to see progress and make connections with students who were not receiving consistent services for quite some time.
What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?
I was surprised by how easy it was and the fact that I do not feel alone! I have made some new friendships with other SLPs that I never would have met if it weren’t for PL.
Can you tell me more about how you first met other PL providers? And how you stay connected?
When I really started having good relationships was with the PL therapists in Yuma—it’s a really large school district so there were quite a few of us. When it started there were 6 or 7 of us. We were all on an email chain back and forth. The lead at the time was really great. She communicated with all of us. I was sharing the school with another provider—we would Gchat a lot back and forth which was nice so our relationship grew from there. It was great to have someone to talk with about various situations that would arise. Then it evolved into a personal relationship too. One provider lives in Texas, another lives in New York—she doesn’t work for PL anymore but we still talk. Some of the other ones were in California. My SLPA is my biggest relationship. We have become very good friends based on us working together every day. We have both a personal and professional relationship. It’s really nice. We haven’t met in person yet and we want to meet so badly.
What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist?
The most challenging part of teletherapy is balancing communication with the staff at schools. It is extremely important to create those relationships and trust, but also to not overburden teachers that are already very busy.
What recommendations do you have for building rapport with school staff?
I think it’s important for school staff to know that you appreciate all of their help because a lot of time you want it to be a dedicated PSP but that doesn’t always happen. Often, I end up with the special education teacher who is required to log the students in, and she or he is busy, and have other things going on and they forget. I try to make sure that they know I appreciate what they’re doing, communicating with them, and sending them little reminders here and there. I’ve found at the one school I am at, while they like the Google invites and they are good to have on their Google calendar, they don’t always see them because they’re up and about so I’ve started doing a monthly calendar for them. It’s super easy because you just take the Google invites and download it as a PDF—I send it to them monthly so they can print it out and stick it on their computer.
To build strong relationships with the staff, communication is key—sending emails, responding quickly, not letting paperwork get delayed for them. Then they know you are serious about your job and they know you are taking care of the kids that they are seeing too and helping you to treat. That establishes the trust with them.
What is one piece of advice you would give a therapist who’s considering making the transition to telepractice?
First, from a financial standpoint, people need to be prepared to know how to handle their taxes as a 1099 contractor. I found an accountant right away who could give me advice about it. That was really helpful. That’s important. As far as the therapy goes, it’s a different format than you are typically used to. So it takes a little getting used to and making the kids feel like they’re connected to you sometimes. You’re on the computer so they don’t really feel like you’re there and you can discipline them as you would if you were sitting right there with them. But you can. Establishing the relationship with the kids when you first start is really important. I always take the first session and do a little Get to Know You thing. I try to keep in touch with their teachers to know how things are going with them. If things are going on in the school, like activities, I’ll bring that up right away when they get on so we have something to discuss so it feels like I am right there with them and I know what’s going on. Otherwise, I think they feel like I am just in the computer and not really there.
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