Career Q&A: Elissa Benjamin, SLP

September 17, 2019

I honestly don’t remember where I met Elissa – I think it may have been a play group with our kids? – but she’s the type of person that is so warm and loving you feel like you’ve known her all your life.  I’ve had the pleasure to photograph Elissa twice for her business and love the most recent set of photos we created at one of my headshot days.  Read about what Elissa does, her journey as a speech-language pathologist and what she’s learned so far.

Who are you? 

My name is Elissa Benjamin. I’m a mother of three young boys ages 3, 5 and 7 and we live in lower Westmount. I’m also a speech-language pathologist. I’ve worked in the public and private sector. Right now, I’m focusing on growing my own private practice. I see clients at Centre de Sante Meraki, and in a private clinic space in Westmount that I share with a colleague.

What is your business? 

I originally started out focusing on children and recently I’ve added on work with adults.

My adult work focuses mostly on the voice concerns related to gender presentation. This can include individuals who are transgender, gender non-binary or anyone who wants to address the gender perception of their voice. Voice, identity and gender are a fascinating intersection, at  emotional and psychological levels,  and I feel quite drawn to this work. Helping individuals in finding a vocal representation that feels authentic is really my privilege and I am honoured to be a part of that journey.

With children, I often see the very young ones, from 12-36 months, who are late communicators. I also see children with complex developmental profiles and I occasionally collaborate with Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy in order to provide a more rounded service. One thing I have learned as a parent is how intertwined communication and movement are, and so I try to keep safe movement an integral part of our therapy. My underlying philosophy is that families are the primary therapists, so I must do my best to help them feel confident of their abilities to follow our goals, and to advocate for their children at daycare and preschool.

Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?

After marriage and children, my life became quite complicated in a way that I did not expect. As a result, private practice was a natural choice in order for me to have both a professional life and continue to be there for my children in a way that was in line with my values as a parent.

Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do? 

I completed my BA in Psychology at McGill, and I was thinking of becoming a clinical psychologist. After some research, I realized that it was both extremely competitive and also not the right fit for my skill set. I had always been very language oriented, so I decided to give speech-language pathology a try. I ultimately ended up doing my masters in Boston, which was an extraordinary experience. I felt that I had found something that would provide me with a satisfying professional life. I am also a creative writer, and I am crossing fingers that I may have something published at some point in my life.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

To be honest, I  have not been given much business advice from anyone and I am still trying to balance the business side with the clinical side. I often feel a little like a Pacman, sometimes making it through the maze, other times hitting a dead end. Probably one piece of advice I remember is to charge what you are worth. Don’t undervalue yourself, because it influences your service, your attitude toward the work and your clients perception of your skills.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business? 

Marketing works but not always in the way that you expect. I have been approached countless times by marketers who want to put my ad in newspapers, placemats, digital advertising units in washrooms… I dabbled a little but felt there was a minimal payoff.

I do not know about other professions, but for me, the best marketing has been a little SEO know-how, a simple website, and word of mouth.

If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them? 

I would get more sleep. Wake up earlier. Do Pilates, drink coffee and take some creative time before starting my day.

Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?

My greatest success was in understanding who my client was. The client, in my field, is more than one person. In pediatrics, it is the family AND the child. In adult work, it is the adult AND their advocates, or their support system, or the adult within our society. Once I moved away from only treating the person with the communicative needs and more into treating the communicative system, I felt a shift in the response from the people I worked with. This was my biggest success and it could not have happened with my having my own children.

Has failing at something or quitting ever lead to success for you? Walk us through that. 

In the past, I tried doing therapy in people’s homes. This was not an ideal model for me given my family situation, and I felt that I was not able to do my best work in this manner. While certain types of therapy work best in the home, it was not realistic for me. After this realization, I quit home-based services and focused more on clinic-based. It’s not for everyone but my role is not to be everything to everyone. The success that followed was a rewarding contract at Centre de Centre Meraki, which really helped me move into gender voice work and gave me access to a multi-disciplinary team.

Have you had a breakthrough moment? A time when either you learned something that pushed you forward in your business or when something happened, and you knew you had finally achieved a goal?

Probably my breakthrough happened in my professional life after I had kids. I realized that my role as a speech therapist was not to fix other people’s problems, but to highlight solutions and present them in a digestible way (in relatable terms, supported by evidence). I am a small piece of the puzzle, but I can be an effective one.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

  1. Can you afford the start-up costs in terms of money and time.
  2. What will your business look like in 3, 5 or 10 years. Are you invested in growing your work? Understandably, the vision will stem from your commitment and ability to see how your skills, clients and profession will evolve over time.
  3. Who are you serving and what are their real needs, can you take their perspective and can you convey your skills to them with confidence.

What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?

I hit snooze on my iPhone alarm app as many times as I can get away with.

Thanks so much Elissa!

For more information about Elissa please take a look at her website

All photos of Elissa were done by Michelle Little Photography as part of my headshot day.  Interested?  Contact me and we’ll work together to create a photo of you that you truly love.

Read more interviews here.