Within our profession—whether student, professor, researcher or practitioner—we connect with people from a diversity of fields. Have you noticed how some seem happier than others? They excel at their work and communicate a sense of enthusiasm, passion and professional fulfillment. It shows on their faces and use of body language, their social interactions, and of course through their work. Researchers from the field of positive psychology tell us that happiness, whether personal or professional, is driven by the same themes: we want to make a difference, we want to be useful, we want to connect with something greater than ourselves, we want balance in our lives, and we want community (Haidt, 2006). It all seems pretty basic and yet it can be our greatest challenge.
One reason may be that we sometimes think of ourselves as consummate caregivers, and this culture of self-sacrifice is naturally carried over into our work setting. I remember the moment many years ago when I first thought this idea. I was on a plane, traveling out of the country. The flight attendants spoke about safety regulations, demonstrated oxygen masks, and I thought I knew the drill well. This time, however, I really heard it for the first time. When they explained how important it was for you to put on your own oxygen facemask first—before helping anyone else with their own—I understood and took it to heart. After returning to work, I made some immediate changes with priorities and strategies for my own self-care.
Bottom line—our work reflects our personal attitudes about our own wellbeing, as much as it does about the wellbeing of our patients, clients, and students. In fact, these attitudes are an integral component of clinical expertise, and will drive the success of our practice. The significance of “personal attitudes and qualities” has recently been expanded in both ASHA’s 2014 clinical competency standards as interaction and personal qualities, and in the 2015 revision of standards for accreditation of graduate programs as professional practice competencies (ASHA, 2014; 2015). Attitudes provide the framework and the context for what happens within the clinical and educational processes, and are thus the most critical “tool” in the profession. As it has been discussed within the medical profession, the most valuable part of the stethoscope is the part that rests between the ears. And so, prescriptions for our own self-care and wellbeing must be at least as important as care for the people who receive our services (Traux & Mitchell, 1971).
What do we mean by professional wellbeing? While wellbeing is difficult to define and measure, we do know that it involves maintenance of equilibrium easily offset by life’s challenges. It is sometimes linked to Aristotle’s idea of “eudaimonia”, the belief that the overarching goal of all human actions is to flourish (Bradburn, 1969). Martin Seligman, another leader in the positive psychology movement, developed a theory about the building blocks for a life that flourishes, which he coined PERMA: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (2011). All of this contributes to a feeling of success. Wellbeing has been compared to quality of life, which is defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns” (WHO, 1997).
Paths, roads or ways are metaphors for the possibility that there is a connection between all we are and do. Our chosen path is the practitioner’s path, where our work becomes about who we are as well as about what we do. As we think about building, supporting, traveling and ultimately manifesting our path—we create a sense of passage within phases of our professional life that fosters balance, self-care, and reflective practices. As we approach the inevitable forks on our professional paths, let’s reflect upon the values we live by, the qualities and attitudes we embody, and the examples we model for others. Nothing becomes more valuable than establishing our own set point for wellbeing, and building strategies for maintaining that sacred balance between our personal and professional self.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2014) Standards for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/Certification/2014-Speech-Language-Pathology- Certification-Standards/
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2015). Proposed Revised Standards for Accreditation of Graduate Education Programs in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. Retrieved from
Bradburn, N. (1969). The structure of psychological well-being. Chicago, IL: Aldine.
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis. New York, NY: Basic Books
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish – A new understanding of happiness and well-being – and how to achieve them. London, England: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Traux, C. B., & Mitchell, K. M. (1971). Research on certain therapist interpersonal skills in relation to process and outcome. In A. E. Bergin & S. L. Hartfield (Eds.), Handbook of psychology and behavior change. New York, NY: Wiley.
World Health Organization. (1997). WHOQOL Measuring Quality of Life. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.