Words can carry weight. Sometimes crushing weight. Consider the words, “Parkinson’s disease,” “severe Broca’s aphasia,” and “terminal brain tumor,” for example. In language, combinations of arbitrary sounds take on meaning, yet these particular words lead to life-altering and devastating changes in the lives of my patients. As a sophomore, I felt directed to pursue a career in speech-language pathology. God had a plan for shaping my character. The patients I serve teach me the value of upright character, continued effort, and right thinking. 

Early in my graduate school experience, I found myself sitting across from my first adult patient—a man in his 70s who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Each time he arrived at our bi-weekly therapy session, we faced a new emotional battle with this degenerative disease. It was riddling his ability to speak clearly. Some days he was distraught—the disease had ended his career prematurely. Some days he was lonely—missing treasured associations with former colleagues. Reading about neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to grow and heal) gave him false hope that he could “cure himself” of his incurable disease. Another week he would simply feel dejected and resigned to his diagnosis. 

At nearly the same time, I began my thesis research on the importance of using counseling skills in the speech therapy field. I annotated research studies describing how SLPs often avoid uncomfortable topics during therapy by making jokes, changing the subject, or rushing into therapy because they do not feel qualified to offer counseling. Within hours of highlighting this article, I found myself sitting across from this Parkinson’s client. That day, he was in tears. 

As we worked together that day to translate his heavy emotions into motivation to engage in therapy, I realized my studies that morning had prepared me to think about this situation differently. Studying had taught me correct thinking, and correct thinking helped me approach therapy and serve my client in a more Christlike way. Rather than change the subject, we worked through his emotions together until he was ready and even eager to participate in therapy. 

Over time, this sweet man would take both of my hands in his and tearfully thank me for listening, validating, and not giving up on him during therapy. Both of us were applying “continual effort” and doing our best. For him, that effort was a great act of faith, because, despite his effort, he knew he was fighting a battle he would eventually lose. His test of character was to continue the effort anyway. The test of my character was to work as hard as I could to support him. I am grateful God has led me to a thesis project that is teaching me “right thinking.” I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when I see how this career and these patients have shaped my character. I have become more resilient, knowledgeable, empathic, and more Christlike. Through study and faith, God is teaching both me and my clients how to become more like Him.