The speech-language pathology and audiology program at SIUE is helping individuals from the local transgender community find the voice that belongs to their identity.
Operating out of the Speech-Language-Hearing Center at the SIUE campus, the program offers a transgender voice therapy service that was first launched in the fall of 2015.
Marie Klopfenstein, associate professor and adviser to the speech-language pathology program, was one of the main advocates for bringing the program to SIUE.
“From my research, I knew there was a need in this area, and that’s what got me started trying to do this through our clinic,” Klopfenstein said. “It took some time, but everyone was interested in the idea of having more voice clients, which is the area that this falls under.”
Klopfenstein said she occasionally consults on cases and teaches classes such as speech science at SIUE.
“I’ve always been interested in populations who might be underserved under our current healthcare model and how we treat these individuals in the field,” Klopfenstein said.
Tedd Masiongale, the speech-language pathology and audiology program clinic instructor, was also a central contributor in the development of the transgender voice therapy service.
“It’s considered an elective voice treatment with the goal to help the client achieve the voice that they want to have,” Masiongale said. “When we took in our first transgender client, we felt that, because this is a burgeoning area of practice within our profession, that it was as a service in the clinic that we needed.”
The process of gender transition can vary greatly for the clients of the transgender voice therapy program.
“Usually what we find when it comes to a client is they expect this process to be really easy,” Masiongale said. “It’s usually about a year or a few years [of participation] in the program because you’re affecting behavioral change and making that habitual.”
Clinic director Jaimie Henderson said the program serves the transgender community not only in direct practice, but also it also educates the students in the field of transgender voice therapy.
“Our clinic is a teaching clinic here at the university, so we are wanting not only to provide a much needed service, but this is also about training future clinicians and providing opportunities for grad students who are in our program,” Henderson said. “I think Tedd [Masiongale] has done a nice job of identifying an aspect of the field that is unique and that makes our program stand out.”
Many clients have expressed feeling safer and more comfortable in their identified gender after seeking out the treatment.
“It transformed her [a former client], in that among the females she interacts with, she’s accepted a lot more than she ever has been as female,” Masiongale said. “She feels a lot safer in a larger community because her voice matches her identity, and she’s more comfortable in the identity that she has always been.”
In addition to helping transgendered individuals feel safer in public places, voice therapy helps clients build a stronger social network.
“For [one client], it was life-changing,” Klopfenstein said. “She wouldn’t talk to anyone when she went out, so she could never be heard. For her, it was a matter of either retreating and not talking to anyone outside of her inner circle, or going out and being social and having a life that others might take for granted.”
Masiongale said transgender voice therapy is quickly rising as a service need in speech pathology research and related treatment fields.
“When I go to a conference, I can’t even get a seat,” Masiongale said. “There are a lot of young students in our profession that are fascinated with this area of practice.”
While the clinic offers services and resources to all members of the community, university students receive a discount on services.
“I think word of mouth is the biggest player in advertising our services,” Henderson said. “We do offer a discount to SIUE students upward of 50 percent to make this service even more accessible to our student population, should they want to seek us out.”
The SIUE clinic offers a range of resources, from direct services to references for a variety of other programs or treatments, which may be more appropriate for the needs of differing members of the transgender community.
“Hopefully we can get all our clients there where they can communicate and live their lives the way they want to,” Klopfenstein said. “That’s the end goal for any of these types of services.”
For more information, visit the Speech-Language-Hearing Center page on SIUE’s website.