Living With Intent: A Speech Therapist Explains the Parkinson Voice Project Strategy

Samantha Felder avatar

by Samantha Felder |

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I recently had a FaceTime conversation with Brittany Dunnum, a speech therapist in Lewiston, Idaho, who works with Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients and utilizes methods developed by the nonprofit Parkinson Voice Project. I met her in Washington, D.C., at the 2019 Parkinson’s Policy Forum sponsored by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

The Parkinson Voice Project created a specific approach to speech therapy to help Parkinson’s patients regain and maintain their speech abilities. This is done through education, individual speech therapy, daily home practice, group sessions, and regular reassessments. Patients participate in individual therapy sessions with a therapist that are called “SPEAK OUT!” and group sessions called “The LOUD Crowd.”

Excerpts of our conversation follow.

SF: Brittany, tell us about who inspired you to want to work with patients living with Parkinson’s disease?

BD: My grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s early in my childhood, and I never fully understood the disease until years after his passing. It wasn’t until much later, while attending the Parkinson’s Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., that I was introduced to representatives from the Parkinson Voice Project. As a prospective speech pathologist, learning of this amazing program led by speech pathologists for individuals with PD solidified my interest in entering the field of speech therapy and serving others while helping them live and thrive with PD.

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Where did you receive training for this job? How long did it take?

A speech therapy master’s program takes two years, two externships, and 400 hours of supervised direct patient care to complete. I attended Minnesota State University, Mankato for my program. Our program offered Parkinson Voice Project training, which could be completed in about a week’s time and then followed up with lots of practice leading structured LOUD Crowd group sessions and SPEAK OUT! individual sessions.

What does a typical session look like?

A typical SPEAK OUT! session with an individual with PD consists of lots of conversation, vocal warmup, reading exercises, and a fun set of what I like to call brain puzzles. Each session lasts 30-45 minutes, and throughout the session, cues to use intentional speech are given to the individual with PD.

Speaking with intent means to convert speech from an automatic function to an intentional act. “Live with intent” is the motto for the Parkinson Voice Project. The word intent is used as a reminder rather than “speak louder” or “slow down” as a cue from the therapist to clients with PD. While we speech therapists love to chat, we mostly want to hear what you have to say. We love when clients use intent!

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love so many parts of my field. When working with individuals with PD specifically, I find it most gratifying to collaborate with them through treatment and to help them discover how much of their voice and breathing they still have control of, despite living with PD.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about going into this career field?

If you’re thinking about becoming a speech therapist, find someone in a clinical or educational setting near you and set up a time to shadow. This position can look so different depending on which setting you may choose, and the best way to find out is to see the miracles in action!


If you would like to find out more about Brittany and the work she does, check out her story at our “30 Days of Parkinson’s disease” campaign. As Brittany says, remember to speak with intent, and always “Embrace the Shake.”

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Hubert Hall avatar

Hubert Hall

This article reinforced my very successful experience as a patient in the Parkinson’s Voice Project with Melissa Lopez being the therapist. I use the workbook to continue exercising my voice. I have had great success by living with Intent. Even my cardiologist had asked questions about my improved voice. Many thanks for this program and to Mrs Lopez.

Mike avatar


I recently discovered the Speak Out program on the Stanford Parkinson’s outreach site which has so many great resources. For the last week I have done this 32 minute program daily. Not only is it great practice for my speaking it also helps my living with intent particularly swallowing. My singing voice at church is now ‘Loud and Proud’ . We folks plagued with Parkinson’s must utilize all the resources available to maintain our well being. Thank you Samantha for exploring a really critical resource that can benefit us all. Blessings, Mike


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