Published on July 23, 2016
Pleased to post an interview with Brian Petty, CCC-SLP, voice pathologist and a singing voice specialist. #fellowshipofthelarynx
TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach? What is your main patient population?
BP: Emory Voice Center, Atlanta. My population is 95% voice, swallowing, and upper airway.
TVF: Where did you complete your education/training in voice?
BP: My initial training was at Oklahoma State for undergrad voice performance, and Ohio State for MA in vocal pedagogy and MA in speech-hearing science. But most of my skill set comes from clinical practice experience. I continue to learn so much from my colleagues, especially those with whom I have worked at UW-Madison and here at Emory.
TVF: What motivated you to dedicate yourself to the field of voice?
BP: This depends upon what you mean by “the field of voice”. If you’re talking about voice from a singing context, I’ve been singing since I was a kid. It was literally the only thing (besides snarky remarks) that I was really good at in high school. If you mean from an Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) context, my interest was sparked by Mike Trudeau’s graduate voice disorders class at Ohio State.
TVF: What comes to your mind as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary voice disorders?
BP: The most pressing issue in clinical SLP practice in the US right now might be reimbursement for services, which has an impact on all kinds of other concerns such as job availability, the offering of telepractice to increase availability of patient care, and institutional support for clinical research. Clarification of best practices related to collaboration with singing teachers and voice trainers, as well as other ethical practice issues, are also important. We could use a way to address individual issues from a national organization perspective rather than relying on individual state processes.
TVF: Do you have research interest(s)? Would you tell us in layman’s term, what your research is about?
BP: My research interests vary from time to time, but over the last few years I’ve been obsessed with the idea of vocal beauty as an independent perceptual construct. I was inspired by reading Semir Zeki’s work on how the brain recognizes and organizes visual beauty. It’s a weird topic that has no immediate application to clinical practice, but it’s what I think about when it gets quiet. Miriam van Mersbergen and Edie Hapner have been particularly generous with their patience and advice when I start blabbing on and on about this.
TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
BP: I would like to dispel the myth that singers are special snowflakes that can only be treated by SLPs who are singers or singing teachers themselves. Most of the singers on my caseload, even the high level classically trained ones, are working through behavioral patterns that are mostly associated with non-singing vocal activity. We tend to fetishize the singer to the point where clinicians are afraid to treat them, creating a barrier to care that is unnecessary. An SLP with expertise and experience in voice and upper airway disorders has much to offer this population even if they’re not singers themselves.
TVF: Your most memorable voice case?
BP: My husband’s recent vocal hemorrhage. He was utterly non-compliant with vocal rest recommendations, even with me sitting there next to him throughout. Makes you wonder what your patients are actually doing.
TVF: Do you have a vocal pet peeve?
BP: Glottal fry, for sure. However, I don’t think that glottal fry is always such a terrible thing.
TVF: As a voice pathologist, what keeps you on your toes?
BP: Patient care always keeps you on your toes. You really never know what you’re going to get. I think I would get awfully bored without a clinical caseload.
TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of laryngology?
BP: The biggest issues in laryngology seem to involve either making paralyzed vocal folds move again, or replacement of native superficial lamina propria. Researchers like Nathan Welham seem to be bringing us closer to a viable treatment option for the latter.
TVF: What advice would you like to give to the general populace about voice care? How about to the professional voice users?
BP: I don’t know that I’d necessarily offer voice care opinions to the general population, as the voice isn’t something that normal people think about on a daily basis. Sure, we should drink water and avoid smoking and screaming. But unless a person is having vocal difficulty, they’re not likely to invest the effort and time to address a problem that isn’t there. The best thing to provide to the general public and to professional voice users (who are a subset of the general public) is to ensure that they know that laryngologists and SLPs are here for them should they have vocal difficulties in the future.
TVF: Who are your favorite singers?
BP: I don’t really have favorite singers. I’ve been listening to Matt Alber and Ella Fitzgerald a lot lately. Cher is my spirit animal, but not because of her singing.
TVF: What sparks “joy” for you as a person?
BP: Singing. I’m still a singer first and a speech pathologist second.