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Read about some of the other SLPs who have been involved in controversies with ASHA or who advocate for SLPs.

Ianessa Humbert, Ph.D.

I recently got the opportunity to interview Dr. Humbert, a renowned dysphagia expert and researcher. She shared her shocking story of ASHA’s ethics investigation, what that experience was like, and the outcome. 


Dr. Humbert has a prolific online profile, especially on Instagram (@ianessahumbert), where she shares helpful information on dysphagia research and best practices. In 2020, she shared an IG live with a sexual health expert to review the intersection of oral function/health and sexual health. These were laid-back lives meant to spark discussion and share resources outside the SLP field that professionals could use to help guide their patients experiencing intimacy or sexual dysfunction as a result of their oral structure or function difficulties, such as kissing and oral sex. And in the familiar fashion of many dysphagia experts, even in academia, she cheekily called herself a “swallowologist”. 


Rumors of an ASHA ethics investigation reached Dr. Humbert in March 2021, but it wasn’t until December 2021 that she received the official letter of her investigation, citing that she misrepresented the field and was practicing beyond the bounds of SLP. 


And you might think, yes! We shouldn’t call ourselves anything other than “speech-language pathologist” or “speech therapist”, and we have to be clear of boundaries between our field and others. But Dr. Humbert was far from the first tongue-in-cheek clinician to use “swallowologist” or to even talk about oral sexual health. And to be clear, Dr. Humbert never recommended that SLPs should practice sexual health therapies, but to refer out to these professionals when we inevitably face a patient who is experiencing these common side effects of oral dysfunction. 


When the SLP community found out about the investigation into Dr. Humbert, the can of worms opened significantly more. In fact, the ASHFoundation (ASHA’s Foundation) shared an article written by a “swallowologist” in 2014. Other creators had long been talking about sexual oral health and SLP services. So what was the difference? Many wondered if Dr. Humbert’s race had anything to do with it. 


Luckily for Dr. Humbert, the ethics investigation was dropped after enough uproar from concerned friends and colleagues. But it shouldn’t come to threat of losing your credentials (which you may need to work) to have open conversations about the boundaries of our field. Dr. Humbert was in the fortunate position to not need to worry about that, but many of us are. 


We’ll probably never know the true rationale of ASHA for pursuing an investigation against Dr. Humbert. But it makes you consider what this organization is achieving in actively attacking and shaming its members, let alone its minority members, rather than engaging in civil discussion about what is and isn’t acceptable. Especially when that double standard issue didn’t seem to matter in the end. 

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