Leah Wilner grew up in western Massachusetts, in a small town outside Amherst. From her small town base, she traveled the world, living in France, Spain, and Ireland, college in DC, then on to San Francisco and Oregon for grad school, back to San Francisco to work as an SLP in the Berkeley schools, and today, she lives in Reno. Leah has been an SLP with PresenceLearning since 2018.
Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?
I’m in a unique position right now—my partner and I are about to move so I am currently doing sessions in my home in a quiet corner to reduce the distractions. In my new home, I’ll have a dedicated office, but for now, a corner in my kitchen is working. After I wake up, I do the morning routine with my dog. Following our walk, I tuck into my little “office” corner and start my therapy sessions for the day. I work through a few different schools so I typically do 2-3 hours of therapy at a time.
What was the evolution of your journey to becoming an SLP?
I knew I wanted to get into some kind of health care or education profession. Prior to going to graduate school I was deciding between becoming a physician’s assistant or a speech therapist. I ultimately decided to become a speech therapist because the career is a bit more flexible. If you’re a PA, you can never work by yourself—you always have to work under a physician. I applied for grad school and went to the University of Oregon after completing my post-bac in LA. I moved back to San Francisco after grad school where I worked as an SLP in the Berkeley schools. It’s a very unique and progressive district that follows a full-inclusion model for special education. Working there had a lot of benefits and also a lot of interesting challenges.
What made you transition to teletherapy and PresenceLearning?
I feel passionate about equalizing the playing field and I think that is something that teletherapy does. Right now we see an urbanization of the population….a lot of people moving to and living in cities. But there are a lot of kids in suburban and rural areas who need support. I grew up in a rural area, and feel a strong connection to other children growing up off the beaten track. I don’t want to live in a rural area now, but with teletherapy I can support young people who live there and need services. That’s my core reason—providing services to students who live in areas where there are not enough local SLPs, or OTs. We’re lucky to now have computers and the ability to video-conference, so our professional reach is no longer limited by how far we can drive each morning. I also always knew I wanted to be on the forefront of whatever industry I was working in, and I didn’t want to be on the back end. With PresenceLearning, I feel that I’m achieving that goal. The world is so much larger than your neighborhood, and they’re all good people—I certainly discovered that in my travels.
And of course, I did my homework. SLPs are a chatty group. We talk to each other both in-person and online about anything and everything. Prior to deciding to join PresenceLearning, I shopped around and at the end of the day I felt that PresenceLearning had the best platform, and compensates therapists in a respectful way. I looked at several other teletherapy companies but I didn’t feel they were at the same level as PresenceLearning. Coming from San Francisco, I have high expectations for companies that say they’re tech companies—for what they are actually offering both internally and externally. For what I was looking for, PL was the best fit. I am excited about the company and to see how I may grow with PresenceLearning in the future. So many people I’ve met in the company share the same forward push to improve and innovate that I have, which makes me feel that I made the right choice.
What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?
How phenomenal the PL platform is! Having tens of thousands of activities at my fingertips has been incredible for myself and my students.
What do you enjoy about being a provider with PL?
The most amazing thing about the PL platform that I’ve found so far is the activity library. Before PL, I found the most frustrating and time-consuming part of being a school therapist (and I think a lot of therapists would echo this) was creating and organizing activities. Just physically finding, printing, laminating, organizing, storing, and then using the correct activities turns into such a brain-drain because you’re not doing it once a day, you’re doing it 12 times a day. It requires a very serious level of organization—not a joke! You can really tell the therapists who have their systems down because they have 20 filing cabinets, each with a million files, each of those subfiles has its own subfiles—it’s a very well-oiled machine. And then there’s the rest of us—papers everywhere, drama, and trying to remember where we put this activity versus that one. Having the activity library where I can create my queues in advance, look and see what I need to target, and then just click on an activity and use it—it’s just mind blowing!
What age groups do you serve?
I work primarily with elementary students and with a few middle school students.␌
What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist?
I’m still getting used to sitting for such long periods of time. I try to stand up and stretch as much as possible, but could certainly do better. I try to do yoga stretches in the chair and some progressive relaxation exercises—tensing and releasing my body below screen—while I am working.
What advice would you give any therapists considering making a transition to teletherapy?
Ask yourself what you value and what’s really important. If something you value is flexibility, teletherapy is a really good option. You can create your own schedule hour-by-hour, which allows you to work around other obligations that you have in your life. If you’re passionate about providing services to underserved communities or students who are physically in a location where they can’t get access to services, then teletherapy is also a good option.
Realistically, another factor to consider is if you need to have a benefits plan. If that’s the case, teletherapy might not be the best choice or you may need to work for a company that is not teletherapy-focused, and instead has a teletherapy department. I’ve found these types of teletherapy positions are more likely to hire therapists as W2 employees with benefits. However, most teletherapy companies still hire therapists as 1099 contractors, similar to PresenceLearning.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your journey to teletherapy?
Teletherapy offers the ability for people with different environments and cultures to connect in a meaningful and fun way. For example, sometimes my students like to look out my window and see what the weather is like in Reno. They’re curious, since they know I live somewhere different, and can offer them a glimpse of something new. Today it’s been snowing on and off all day, and my students love to see the snow. It’s completely different from their weather in the Central Valley of California, and by showing them, I’m not only strengthening our therapeutic alliance, but I’m also exposing them to something new. Through teletherapy, we’re doing more than simply providing services to someone on the other end of a computer screen. We’re also connecting individuals who would likely not have met in real life, and showing them that the world is full of good people. Regardless of where people live, how they look or what their abilities are—the world is full of good people.
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