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Managing Work-Life Balance: A Guide for New Teletherapists During School Closures

Kristin Martinez, M.A, CCC-SLP, is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Clinical Director, SLP and OT, with PresenceLearning. Kristin started her career in 2000 working as an onsite SLP in her local community of Fort Collins, Colorado. In 2013, Kristin expanded her practice to teletherapy.

With a growing number of SLPs, OTs, and MHPs moving from working onsite to working online amid school closures, we connected with Kristin to discuss some best practices for establishing a new normal at home.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make when you transitioned from working onsite to working in a home office?

I found the most significant adjustment was that I had to take greater initiative to connect with my colleagues as I wouldn’t be “running into” anyone during staff meetings, in the teachers’ lounge, etc. While I valued the autonomy of working from home, I realized that I needed to ensure that I was taking advantage of opportunities to connect with other clinicians. I soon found that there are multiple avenues for doing so, and I actually now feel that I am more engaged with a broader clinical community than when I was working as an onsite SLP, where interaction with my SLP colleagues was less frequent.

What advice do you have about setting boundaries for clinicians who are new to teletherapy or considering making the transition?

It is important to consider two types of boundaries: those that need to be delineated between you and the schools where you provide services, and those that you establish between your work and home life. Particularly for those school districts and staff for whom teletherapy is a new reality, there can be an expectation that teletherapists are “on call” and available whenever needed for direct services, evaluations, and IEP meetings. Those of us who have worked onsite in schools know that students can transfer suddenly onto and off of caseloads, case managers sometimes forget to alert related service providers of an impending IEP meeting, and everyone is short on time; so, a certain degree of flexibility on the part of the teletherapist will be appreciated. However, just as onsite SLPs cannot be present in all buildings on all days, neither can we. It is vital that expectations around scheduling and the SLP’s availability outside of direct therapy sessions be communicated clearly, and early in the school year.

The second boundary that needs to be established is not specific to teletherapy, but impacts anyone who works from home. Particularly in today’s world of smartphones and laptops, it can be difficult to know when work ends and home/family time begins. Try to set start and end times to your work day, as if you were commuting to and from an in-person job. While many of us end up working some nights and evenings to catch up with work, regardless of the setting, try to avoid making this the norm.

What strategies can you suggest for clinicians who might be struggling to create a better balance between work and personal and family life?

This can be a challenge. Beyond setting some strict boundaries around start and end times related to each work day, try to keep in mind the balance you felt was missing when you worked in your in-person job. Were your work days too long? Did you find yourself in meetings during your lunch break and planning time? Were you going into the office on weekends? It is easy to believe that just because you’re eliminating the commute, that working from home will automatically create more balance, but this is not necessarily true! Be mindful of creating and sticking to breaks throughout your day (you have more control over your schedule). Create a separate space for your home office: not only is this a best practice for providing speech therapy from home, but it will help to create a clear division between time spent in your home while at your job, and time spent at home attending to your personal and family life.

What recommendations do you have for mitigating distractions and staying focused?

As previously mentioned, creating a separate home office space is essential! Find a place in your home that will provide minimal distractions from noise and family/pet traffic. Take this opportunity to create the private office environment that you probably never had in the schools. Organize your reference materials, add good lighting, keep your desk cleared of anything not related to that day’s work. (For example, don’t keep home to-do lists, kids’ school permission forms, etc. in your work space.)

How do you plan for sessions without the materials available to therapists in schools?

It can certainly be stressful to think about creating therapy materials that will be effective in an online environment, particularly if you don’t have access to your favorite in-person activities. One tremendous benefit for therapists working with the PresenceLearning platform is access to a built-in activity library. However, there are also incredible material resources available for teletherapists. There are several teletherapy Facebook groups, and members are generous with their suggestions and website recommendations. Many teletherapists, for instance, have created their own Teachers Pay Teachers stores that include some great options. In addition, if the teletherapy platform you are using allows for screen sharing, it might be possible to incorporate web-based resources in your therapy. Start with materials and activities that will have the broadest application across ages and goal areas, and once you become more familiar with the features of your therapy platform as well as the variety of resources available, you’ll find that your library quickly expands!

How do you take care of your body? Do you have a set time to exercise or take a walk?

No surprise, but this also goes back to setting boundaries with your schedule and time. Because much of the work I do is with schools in a different time zone, I’m able to grab some time at the beginning of my day for exercise. The great news is that as long as you establish clear boundaries from the beginning, you can create time in your schedule specifically for daily walks or to make it to that early morning yoga class that your previous commute wouldn’t allow.

Do you have a favorite exercise to do between clients?

I personally keep a mini yoga studio in the corner of my office, and I know some teletherapists who prefer to work from a standing desk. As we have all learned in recent years, sitting for hours at a time is not good for us. Without intending to, it’s easy to fall into the teletherapy trap of scheduling students back-to-back, all day—they just come to us! Make sure that you are taking advantage of those 5-minute breaks between students to integrate movement throughout your day.

How do you keep connected to colleagues when you are working from home?

I set up group chats with my colleagues related to common school assignments, clinical interests, or related to anything else we have in common (cooking, pets, etc.). During this time of school closures when in-person get-togethers are not an option, I schedule more frequent 1:1 and group chats with colleagues to keep in touch. I know we all look forward to when we can meet together again in physical space. But in the meantime, it’s important to create opportunities to connect with each other online.

Are you considering your options for working online long term? Apply to join our Care Network of independent teletherapists.

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