ASU and PCH Provide Voice Therapy for Transgender Youth

Niki D'AndreaAugust 27, 2020
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Dr. Mahsa Salek provides voice therapy at Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Mercy Gilbert campus; Photo courtesy Mahsa Moeeni-Salek
Dr. Mahsa Salek provides voice therapy at Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Mercy Gilbert campus; Photo courtesy Mahsa Moeeni-Salek

ASU and PCH provide voice therapy for transgender youth.

Imagine sounding like you have laryngitis all the time. It would be hard to laugh. You might not want to talk to anyone.

That’s what speaking feels like to many transgender people, says Dr. MariaRita “Myra” Schatzki, clinical associate professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. “If our voice doesn’t reflect our authentic self, then we’re not completely seen,” she says. “For transgender individuals, if voice and physical appearance don’t match, this may place them in a vulnerable position of getting hurt… so it’s important for us to support people seeking voice affirmation services.”

In the Valley, such support has come from Schatzki’s work at ASU, where she’s trained clinicians to work with transgender clients since 2017, and a transgender voice therapy clinic for youth established in January at Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Mercy Gilbert campus. That program is helmed by speech language pathologist Dr. Mahsa Salek, who observed Schatzki’s work at the request of PCH’s section chief of adolescent medicine, Dr. Veenod Chulani.

Around two dozen transgender individuals have been treated at ASU, and six youths have completed therapy with Salek at PCH. Both therapists have wait lists.

Therapy typically consists of 12 weekly sessions that include vocal anatomy and voice exercises. “That’s really important,” Salek says. “Anyone can try to speak at a higher pitch or a lower pitch, but whether they do it safely or not is important, because if you use a voice that’s not very natural and you didn’t learn it, you could end up hurting your voice, losing your voice, getting vocal nodules. There are so many things that can go wrong.”

Salek says voice therapy is a vital part of a transgender person’s affirmation: “Their voice is usually the aspect that most reminds them of their assigned gender at birth, which is not the gender they may identify themselves as, and so it really keeps them from communicating. They may not answer the phone. They may not order at a restaurant. It really prohibits them from moving on.”

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