Group conversation therapy improves quality of life for people with communication difficulties

Posted on October 29, 2009

The evening was held on Monday 12 October at the Department of Communication Pathology. Group members are people living with cognitive communication difficulties (following a traumatic brain injury) and aphasia (language impairment resulting from a stroke). The event, the 10th annual get-together of this group that has been running for 14 years, shared group projects undertaken over the year with family members and friends.

Student training

Dr Goldblum integrates the group’s activities with a training programme for six selected final year Communication Pathology students every year. “They work very hard – it’s a collaboration between myself, the students and the group members,” said Dr Goldblum, a senior lecturer at the Department of Communication Pathology for 20 years.

The students are given a solid theoretical framework which forms the foundation of the group objectives and filters down into all the projects. “Our emphasis is not on speech perfection, it is about the members engaging with life. When they join the group they begin to feel respected as individuals,” Dr Goldblum added.

The group’s programme is based around projects and themes that are collaboratively planned with the members and students. Previous sessions have included Toastmasters groups, book clubs, topic-based discussions and developing materials for educating the public about communicating with individuals with aphasia.

Dr Goldblum and her students consider it a privilege to work with the group members. “It is not what we teach the group members, it is what we learn from them. What I’m exposed to through the group is the resilience of the human spirit. Many of the members were successful professionals prior to their injuries or strokes. Their lives have changed significantly and yet they’ve found a way to carry on. Every group member in their own way is a great example of this resilience,” Dr Goldblum continued.

Harnessing new technologies

Thanks to technology, group members are able to use sms, computers and social networking sites to express themselves and co-facilitate the sessions. The group also participated in a virtual group on Facebook this year that allowed members to connect with individuals with similar communication difficulties in the USA. The Facebook project was a collaboration led by Dr Goldblum and Professor Janet Patterson from California State University East Bay. Dr Goldblum will be co-presenting a poster with Professor Patterson about this at the upcoming American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) conference in New Orleans.

Dr Goldblum explained that a communication difficulty is often an invisible disability. Educating, informing and empowering the general public is an essential part of her overall strategy. “It is about training people to be more comfortable in the presence of people with these communication difficulties,” she concluded.

Contact Information: Conversation Groups for individuals living with Aphasia and Cognitive-communication disorders meet every Thursday from 1.30 – 3.00 pm during the University term.

Anyone interested in attending the groups can contact Mrs Ansie Van Niekerk at the Department of Communication Pathology

Phone: 012 420 2816

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