Support Goes a Long Way

When the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) became Salus University ten years ago, a promise was made to continue to improve the welfare of the public worldwide. True to its name, which is Latin for health and well-being, Salus believes in an interprofessional and holistic approach to health and well-being.  

So when the idea of support groups for the public-at-large first came to fruition within the University’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program, it was met with great enthusiasm as another way to engage with the community and integrate it into the students’ curriculum.

Unmasking Project SLI Support GroupThere are currently eleven support groups hosted by the Speech-Language Institute (SLI), the University’s clinical facility that provides a wide range of pediatric and adult assessment intervention services, that students in the SLP program help facilitate as part of their curriculum.

The genesis of the support groups were focused on fluency related issues, strategies and techniques - one each for adults and children. Both an affiliate of and supported by the National Stuttering Association (NSA) - a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing to children and adults who stutter through support, education, advocacy, and research - the groups meet the first and third Wednesdays of every month.

Not all of the support groups are for those living with communication disorders. Some are related to social support or professional development – Raise Your Voice is one of those. Here, transgender individuals who recently transitioned, focus on using the appropriate pitch of their voice, how to hold their body and use appropriate hand gestures that match their new identity.

As part of their clinical training, SLP students clearly enjoy facilitating the groups and the success is two-fold for both them and their clients.
Stuttering Support GroupJackie Katzev ‘19SLP organized the Speakeasy group, which is for those recovering from a laryngectomy procedure – the total or partial removal of the larynx. “Working with this support group has significantly enhanced my understanding of various diagnoses and therapeutic interventions associated with laryngectomies,” she said. She believes the group has been phenomenal in the healing process. “Ultimately, I believe that human beings simply want to be understood by others, and it brings comfort to know that there is someone out there who understands one’s inner complexities,” she said.
“Working with the support groups helps the students balance their expectations of their clients,” said Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, clinical director of SLI. During a therapy session, students don’t necessarily hear all the daily concerns, worries, and other factors that happen outside of the session, which can impact whether or not the client is able to complete the assignments prepared by the student. However, when the students participate in the support group environment, they are exposed to another side of a client’s life.
This was the case for Jill Painter ‘19SLP, who reflected on her time with the Fluency support group. “The group is a great resource for people to discuss their feelings and receive reliable information from speech-language pathologists,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience to learn how stuttering affects people’s lives on a daily basis and it taught me how important it is to make the therapy specific to a client, and how much a support group can improve someone’s quality of life.”
TBI Support Group at SLIPeer support groups are a critical and effective strategy for ongoing health and sustained behavior change for people with chronic diseases and other conditions. Support groups provide opportunities for individuals to share personal experiences and feelings, coping strategies, or firsthand information about diseases or treatments and fills the gap between medical treatment and the need for emotional support. Overall, studies have found social support:
●      decreases mortality rates
●      increases knowledge of a disease
●      improves self-efficacy
●      improves self-reported health status and self-care skills, including medication adherence

SLI’s support groups are continually built as the community needs them. The newest groups, Teenage Social Skills - with a focus on building social skills for teenagers with autism - and a group affiliated with the Parkinson’s Voice Project ® are new to the program’s repertoire. On the docket is a group to support caregivers of individuals with dementia.

With these eleven support groups, Salus continues to live up to its name and truly takes on a whole-health approach.