Our voice represents our rich inner world of thoughts, feelings, wants and needs. It is an instrument—and every instrument needs careful maintenance for optimal function
When providing voice treatment to my clients, I can’t stress enough the importance of a vocal hygiene protocol.
Some recommendations are standard, such as adequate water intake and using a humidifier at home. But to give my clients the best opportunities for improvement, I like to go beyond the basics. To accomplish this, I take a holistic dive into the diet, lifestyle and environment the client encounters daily. This insight can shed light on factors that might harm their voice. Using these details, we work together to tailor a protocol personalized for their situation.
To customize a vocal hygiene plan that makes sense for them, I always start by asking my clients these three questions:
- Do you consume any alcohol and/or drugs (prescribed/unprescribed)?
It’s critical to approach this questions with compassion and openness. Many people consume alcohol, cannabis and/or other pharmaceuticals for a variety of reasons, including stress relief. If I feel their intake negatively affects their treatment—alcohol causes dehydration, for example—I recommend reducing intake or using alternative anti-stress methods. Of course, I also advise they discuss any change with their health care practitioner.
Another prescription or over the counter medication to watch out for is allergy medication. Allergy medications dehydrate. Also, if used to alleviate a stuffy nose, these medications can cause serious post nasal drip, which often results in excessive throat clearing and coughing. That combination can compound to aggravate an already tender throat and voice. I recommend strategies to compensate through extra hydration or using hard swallows to clear post nasal drip.
- Do you have any overt stressors in your life right now? And how do you manage that stress?
Aside from serving a physiological and biological purpose, our larynx also serves an emotional purpose. Our voice ties into our identity in many ways. Experiencing an emotional trauma or a stressful situation can negatively affect our voice. Asking this question helps me make recommendations for mindfulness, meditation or perhaps referral to a mental health professional to help them cope with their challenges.
- Tell me about your work and home environments. What sort of “life hacks” or strategies do you use to help bring a sense of calm and well-being into those spaces?
We spend most of our time at home or work, so it’s important to try to create healthy environments in those places. Insight into our clients’ home and work space allows us to make recommendations to enhance vocal health. A humidifier is a great start, but I often also suggest including essential oils to reduce stress and I encourage deep breathing, which can power a strong voice. If I give clients simple upper-body stretches as part of their treatment, I suggest they clear a small space in their work or home environment that encourages them to feel comfortable completing this aspect of their vocal treatment protocol.
It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone works in a traditional office setting. For a client working in a bar/restaurant or as a teacher where they need to speak at louder volumes, I also provide strategies on protecting their voice. Sometimes my clients can’t avoid speaking over background noise, so it’s critical to support those clients with compensatory strategies such as vocal rest prior to and after work, teach them adequate breath support during speaking and proper hydration to maintain vocal wellness.
I use these three questions at the beginning of treating any new voice client. As you get to know your client, you can continue to customize a program targeting their specific needs.
A comprehensive and holistic approach to the vocal hygiene plan can bring lasting improvement for our clients.
Tina Babajanians, MS, CCC-SLP, has nine years of experience working with voice clients. She owns a Los Angeles-based private voice clinic, The Voice Stylist. Follow her @thevoicestylist. firstname.lastname@example.org