Meet J. Scott Yaruss, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-F, F-ASHA
An interesting observation I have made since starting this blog is the punctuality and responsiveness I have gotten from prospective interviewees. The individuals who have responded the quickest and most positively have been those who I presumed would be the most ‘busy’. I have sent some emails thinking “this is a reach” or “they are too well known to respond to my start up blog”, but have been pleasantly surprised at how responsive these highly successful, surely very busy individuals have been. I think this is a testament to true leadership. It is clear that making time to inspire others and grow the profession is a value to these leaders. Through this experience, I have learned the value of mentorship, both in providing and receiving insight. No matter where this career takes me, I will continue to both seek mentors and be a mentor whenever possible. We are a community and making time for each other is important.
Dr. Yaruss responded to my email inquiry while on a train in Japan, attending the International Fluency Association conference in Hiroshima. Being a well known leader in the field, he was one of those “reach” emails I sent, thinking to myself he is probably too busy to respond to my little blog project. When he responded within a day, replying to my questions while commuting abroad, I was incredibly touched. How awesome is it that this influential leader who doesn’t have a clue who I am was so willing to respond and share insight, despite his busy schedule?! I am extremely grateful and inspired. Dr. Yaruss has made notable advances in the area of stuttering and is so motivated to improve the education and resources available for clinicians in treating fluency disorders. His passion for continued research and advancement in this area is palpable.
His path: Dr. Yaruss has specialized in stuttering for more than 25 years. On his web page, he states that his mission is to “help speech-language pathologists improve their confidence and competence when working with people who stutter.” He has given more than 675 workshops, lectures and seminars for clinicians, students, and researchers (both within the U.S. and abroad) and has co-authored several books and clinical materials about stuttering and stuttering therapy. Dr. Yaruss is currently a Professor of Speech-Language Pathology at Michigan State University. Previously, he was an Associate Professor and Director of Master’s Degree programs at the University of Pittsburgh as well as the Coordinator of Clinical Research for speech-language pathology at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. In 2006, Dr. Yaruss was named an ASHA Fellow. He was named Speech-Language Pathologist of the Year by the National Stuttering Association in 2009.
“The most important rule in my life is simply this: every time I do something, it is practice for the next time I do it. Every meeting, every presentation, every session with a client is practice for my next meeting, presentation, or session. Remembering this helps me approach new situations (and even old ones) with less fear, because I feel that I am always just learning.” – J. Scott Yaruss
- What advice would you give to a new graduate who is about to start their clinical fellowship (CF)?
Try to select a CF that has good supervision. Often, it seems like it would be nice to finally have some independence after being supervised in graduate school, but I always encourage students to resist that temptation. I understand the desire to spread your wings a bit after the intense graduate school experience. No matter how well students might be prepared during their graduate programs, however, there is still a learning curve in the transition to independence. It can be extremely helpful to have a supportive and involved supervisor during the CF. Situations that you never dreamed of will arise, and it is a lot of responsibility to be “on your own.” Having a good supervisor will help, and it will make you a stronger and more independent clinician in the end.
Also, don’t worry if your CF experience isn’t exactly in the disorder area or population that you ultimately want to work with. One of the great benefits of our field of speech-language pathology is the opportunity to work with a wide range of conditions in a wide range of settings. Consider any experience gained as useful experience that will ultimately hep you in your practice. Don’t shy away from new experiences—and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember, you are still at the entry level of your career. You are not expected to know it all just because you have a Master’s degree. Continue learning, continue exploring, and continue experiencing. Try things that you’re not sure about now, while you still have access to support and supervision to help you through it.
- What is one belief, habit or routine that has significantly impacted your life?
The most important rule in my life is simply this: every time I do something, it is practice for the next time I do it. Every meeting, every presentation, every session with a client is practice for my next meeting, presentation, or session. Remembering this helps me approach new situations (and even old ones) with less fear, because I feel that I am always just learning. If I’m trying something new and make a mistake (as often happens – after all, I was trying something new!), then I can remind myself that it was a learning experience. I was just practicing, and I’ll know better next time. If I do something well, then I can be pleased about that then think about how I can do it even better next time because I had a good practice.
With this philsophy, the only way I cannot succeed is if I do not try. If I don’t try, then I don’t get the practice I need for next time.
I try to hep my clients take this approach, too. Let’s say I have a client who is preparing to give a a book report in class, but he is afraid because he stutters. If he gives the book report, but he’s not happy with how it goes, then we have the opportunity to explore that in therapy and think about how he can use his experience as practice for his next presentation. He can think about the knowledge he gains from giving it a try as a stepping stone for the next time he has to do that. The only way he does not benefit is if he doesn’t give the presentation (though even that can teach a lesson, as well, for he can see how he feels when he does not practice.)
Always give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you learn something to help you in the future.
- Where did you complete your CF? How does the career path you’ve traveled differ from the path you imagined as a new grad?
I have been very fortunate in my career. I did my CF as part of my doctoral studies at Syracuse University, and the path I have been on matches my goals. I came into this field specifically to study stuttering, and I have become a practicing clinician and researcher in stuttering. I know that many people take different turns and winding paths in their careers; I think that is one of the strengths of our field, because people can find satisfaction in many ways all within the same discipline.
- What book do you most frequently recommend? Is there a book that has greatly impacted how you think?
Well, I am in a bit of a unique position. Because I spend most of my day each day helping people learn more about stuttering, I often find myself recommending books about stuttering. As the co-author of clinical guides about stuttering, the books that I most often end up recommending are my own. (It’s not that I’m trying to sell books; it’s just that that’s where I put the answers to the questions that people most often ask me!)
As for books outside of the field, one book that I very often refer my clients to is Dr. Susan Jeffers’s “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” This book talks about the importance of facing ones fears and offers a roadmap about how to live life even when life is scary.
- What is your favorite failure?
Oh, I’ve had more than a few. I think about the treatment that I did when I was a beginning clinician, and I recognize that I have learned a lot in the intervening years. I know that I’ve said things to clients that I could have said very differently; I’ve pushed clients to make changes when they weren’t ready (and have failed to push when they really needed it). Still, every time I’ve done something as a therapist or scientist has helped me practice for the next time I do that thing. So, I try to ensure that my therapy and research are improving.
- What areas in the field of speech-language pathology do you see the most opportunity for growth?
This is an exciting time to be a speech-language pathologist. Thanks to scientific advances in genetics and neuroimaging, we will soon be learning more than ever about the conditions we treat. We will also continue to gain meaningful information about the efficacy of our interventions.
In my field of fluency disorders, I am particularly excited about advances that may help us more specifically match our treatment recommendations to the needs of specific children who stutter and their families. We know that there are a number of treatment approaches that can help young children overcome the burden of stuttering; we do not yet know which approach might be a “best match” for a particular child or family, but research may help to uncover clues that we can use in making evidence-based treatment recommendations. I am also excited about research that will help us better understand the nature of the moment of stuttering so we can tailor our therapies to more directly help our clients communicate more easily.
At the same time, it is a challenging time to be a speech-language pathologist because of dramatic expansions in the field and limited budgets. In order for our field to achieve its full potential, we will need to continue to advance for full funding for school districts to support special education and for better payment/insurance options to support the medical needs of the populace.
- What are bad recommendations you hear in the field or in your area of expertise?
Oh, answering this one fully would take a book. Because so many speech-language pathologists are not well-trained in fluency disorders, we see many, many myths and misconceptions flourish amongst our colleagues. We still see clinicians recommending that parents wait to see if their children will recover from stuttering before taking action, even though we have concrete evidence that early intervention is better. We still see clinicians telling parents not to draw attention to stuttering, even though the theory upon which that advice was based has been long ago disproven. We still see clinicians recommending therapy that focuses on fluency rather than the entire disorder, even though we have ample evidence that stuttering involves more than just speech behavior. We still see clinicians recommending specific therapies in a “one-size-fits-all” fashion, even though this is directly contrary to the principles of evidence-based practice. I could go on… The bottom line is that we have a lot of work to do in order to educate people about stuttering and stuttering therapy. That’s why I do what I do, but I know that I have a long way to go.
- What was a notable turning point or shift in your career? How did this impact your professional journey?
Oh, as I mentioned, I have been very fortunate in my career. I have been able to pursue my goals as a practicing clinician and a researcher, and I have been able to focus my efforts specifically on my disorder area of interest. My career has been shaped by various experiences, but I have not had any obvious game-changers that set me on a different path. Most recently, though, I have been fortunate to join the faculty at Michigan State University. Although I was happy at the University of Pittsburgh, I was given the chance to make a change that would allow me to further my own learning in new areas. In this next chapter of my career, I get to explore new directions for enhancing my research and improving my ability to teach others about stuttering.