Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences
Class of 2016
I believe that things happen for a reason. I really do. I believe that things are purposeful.
Living is more than taking. It’s giving back and helping other people -- and what can come from that is really amazing. That’s what led me to my current path doing research for my Ph.D. and completing my clinical fellowship at the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute.
My research, teaching and practice are all interconnected. I want to help people — whether that’s my own students or my clients who stutter — discover who they are and what they most want to achieve in life. I’m naturally drawn toward empathy. I’ve always been a people person.
I want to help people feel seen and heard.
As a communication sciences and disorders sophomore here at UT, I was looking for research opportunities to get more hands-on exposure. I emailed every professor in the department, and Courtney Byrd was the only one who responded. Within the first five minutes of meeting her and learning about her mission and stuttering research, I thought, “I’ve got to stick with this as long as I can.”
I’m a very gut-oriented person. I go with my feelings. Listen to that voice inside of you that gets really excited and don’t discount that. You can also have fear and doubt, but listen to that voice, because that is our gut and purpose.
I found myself continuously drawn back to stuttering when I was abroad in Israel during college. I’m Jewish, so I grew up learning about Israel through my family. In my head, it was this faraway land. I felt disconnected from it until I finally went for the first time when I was 18. When I went back, I was a junior in college and was there for six months.
I worked with this speech pathologist there who also specialized in stuttering. Since then, I’ve been back five or six times.
Israel helps me view ordinary things in an extraordinary way. It’s allowed me to zoom out and see why I’m doing what I’m doing. When you’re doing research, it’s really easy to get bogged down in the details. Those details definitely matter for executing it correctly. But at the end of the day, you’re trying to help other people be who they are.
My doctoral work blends everything I’m interested in through research projects focusing on empathy, counseling, speech pathology and stuttering in Israel. In Israel, there isn’t a ton of research about stuttering. It’s exciting to see what we’ve done in the states, imagine what we could do there and think about how much more work we still have in the states.
I didn’t know I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. until I started my master’s at TCU. Dr. Byrd planted the seed during undergrad. I never knew if I genuinely enjoyed the topic, or if I just really liked the institute, Dr. Byrd and the people. It can be hard to disentangle the people versus the overall purpose.
Now I know they’re connected, and you can’t disentangle them. The most important part about being human is communicating with others and sharing your identities, passions and dreams -- so to help other people do the same thing appealed to me from the very beginning.
Life isn’t always easy, but that isn’t the point. The point is, are you fulfilling your purpose.
How did you end up in speech, language and hearing sciences as an undergraduate?
My first major, social work, is oriented in helping people out of their deepest problems. I liked that, but I needed something more tangible. Psychology I love because it’s about the mind and why people do what they do, but it was still too vague. But speech pathology helped me blend both of those.
What distinguishes this field?
It is a nice blend between art and science.
It's a science in that we're identifying and treating communication disorders, so that requires us to take what we see and find a scientific grounding for it. I like that tangible aspect.
At the same time, we're not just identifying a disorder. We're treating an actual person. There's an art to that. Being able to adapt your treatment and clinical style to meet the needs of each individual is an art form.
How did your undergraduate experience shape you?
Studying at UT as an undergrad provided me with an amazing foundation for graduate school. I felt very prepared going into my master's.
Even now, having role models in the department who illustrate the values and practices that I appreciate, is helpful.
As an undergrad, Moody gave me the classes I needed, and faculty who believed in me. Now, at this level, I have people who are like my colleagues. They're still my professors, but they're people I can look to in a different way as I prepare to enter the workforce.
What is your research focus?
My research looks at the therapeutic alliance — the relationship between the clinician and the client — and how that relationship predicts outcomes.
In psychotherapy, it has shown to be a robust predictor of treatment effectiveness and progress. Sometimes we can focus on, “How am I giving this task? How am I reading these directions? Are they doing what I want them to do because I'm the expert?” Whereas, I think a lot of it is about relinquishing control and asking the client, “What do you want?”
One of the foundations of the therapeutic alliance is asking the client what they want out of therapy and what they want to do during treatment. Building that rapport is really important.
What joys do you find in your practice?
I get a lot of joy from when my clients achieve their goals. That is the ultimate joy.
I’m amazed by the wisdom my clients bring. They consistently remind me that no matter what we think might be holding us back or what others might be judging us for, if you know your “why” and what you have to offer, others treat you the way you treat yourself.
My clients demonstrate to me every day that as long as we embrace that and continue to push forward despite our fears, we’re not ignoring them or discounting them, we’re leaving them in our lap and going forward anyway.