A speech and language therapist is a medical professional who helps people that have problems with communicating or other functions related to the mouth, such as swallowing, eating and drinking.
Communication in one form or another is central to our society and our individual sense of self, thus it is crucial that any problems arising with these are dealt with as quickly as possible. Likewise, other functions of the mouth such as eating, drinking and swallowing are key to enjoying an independent life. These are things that ordinarily we take for granted but, should problems arise here, then a person's quality of life and that of those close to them can rapidly deteriorate, sometimes leading on to further problems, such as depression or other mental health issues, weight loss etc. Speech and language therapists are the first port of call for those who develop or have grown up with problems related to these normal functions of the mouth and /or the oesophagus.
Speech and language therapy concerns itself with the following medical problems:
- Difficulties with understanding language, written and spoken (Aphasia/ Dysphasia)
- Problems with the muscle control used for speaking (Dysarthria)
- Difficulties planning the movement for speech (Dyspraxia)
- Problems with social interaction due to cognitive difficulties (Cognitive Communication Impairment)
- Problems with the voice (Dysphonia)
- Swallowing problems (Dysphagia)
Salaries for speech and language therapists are tightly stratified by the NHS, according to a therapist's years of service and any specialist experience gained therein.
- The starting salary for a speech and language therapist is from £20,000 to £27,000 per annum
- After several years of experience, speech and language therapists can earn up to £35,000
- Senior speech and language therapists can earn up to £40,000 per annum
- Privately operating speech and language therapists who own their own practices can earn far in excess of the above amounts
A speech and language therapist's daily responsibilities include:
- Meeting with clients and performing a range of tests to assess their symptoms and the causes of these
- Compiling a detailed case history of everything that led up to the patient's current situation
- Meeting with close relatives and friends to assess any problems arising from communication with those around the patient
- Creating individual treatment programmes, working through these with the patient and any key relatives
- Liaising with other health workers where necessary, such as doctors who may need to perform surgery, or occupational therapists where the patient may need to address problems in their working arrangements
- Documenting a patient's progress
- Visiting patients at home who are too ill to travel
- Advising carers, parents or key relatives in the treatment of the patient
In order to practise as a speech and language therapist you must complete a three to four year degree certified by the Health Professions Council (HPC) in Speech and Language Therapy or Human Communication.
To qualify for a place on a speech and language therapy degree you will normally need a minimum of five GCSE's above a grade C and three A-levels or equivalent with at least one science based subject and English. Graduate students with a degree in a science or health related subject may be able to take an accelerated two year conversion course in speech and language therapy.
To see a list of courses, visit the following websites:
As a speech and language therapist you would be working with a broad range of the general population in one on one or group sessions. It is a demanding job and the following personal attributes and skills would be useful:
- A calm and patient manner, since you will be working with ill and needy people
- Empathy to listen to and understand a range of problems relating to every aspect of a patient's life
- An analytical and problem solving mind to unravel the causes and effects of a patient's symptoms
- A patient methodical approach to problem solving; speech and language problems can take months or years to treat.
- The confidence to make decisions based on your own findings as well as the ability to work as part of the team with other SLT therapists and health workers.
- Good organisational skills as you will be working with multiple patients throughout a single day.
- The ability to leave work issues at work and not bring issues home. The effects of speech and language problems can be quite debilitating, so a certain amount of objectivity is required in order to function as a professional.
- The ability to motivate and educate a wide variety of people in difficult situations.
Speech and language therapists usually work from a clinical setting within a hospital or private clinic. In severe cases home visits can be made to those who have difficulty travelling. Within the clinical setting there is a range of tools at hand for use in speech and language therapy, including devices for measurement and recording. For example, patients may be given a small amount of food with a radioactive marker to swallow so that the function of their oesophagus can be tracked via X-ray.
In the UK there are currently more female speech and language therapists than male, although this is not the result of any official policy. The hours are generally thirty-seven and a half hours per week (9 - 5.30) although there can be some shift work in order to see patients outside of normal working hours. Overtime may be paid at time and a half or double time depending on the employer. Speech and language therapy is not a dangerous job per se but it can be a very demanding one emotionally and physically. It is also immensely rewarding.
Degree providers look for some direct experience in the field of speech and language therapy. You can find out about opportunities for work experience or observing an SLT at work through any NHS trust.
The NHS is by far the largest employer of speech and language therapists. With some experience you may be able to go to work within a private clinic.
Experienced speech and language therapist assistants may be able to study to become fully qualified speech and language therapists via firstly a foundation degree in healthcare and then joining a speech and language therapy degree in the second year. The entry requirements for working as a speech and language therapist assistant vary between NHS trusts.
Speech and language therapists may go on to become team leaders or manage their own department. Private work is also a possibility but only after several years' NHS experience.
Trudi Jenkins, 35 years old, is a Speech and Language Therapist working privately for her own company, the The Communication Clinic in London.How long have you been working at the Communication Clinic ?
Well I've been in the industry since 1995, that's 14 years, and I've been in this particular job as Director of the Communication Clinic for 4 years.
What did you do before this job?
I worked in the NHS for a regional rehabilitation unit in London. I studied SLT at Manchester University.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
In a nutshell, I assess and treat adults with communication and swallowing difficulties following neurological impairment (brain damage). On a daily basis that usually involves seeing 5 or 6 clients around London, liaising with families, liaising with medical teams, attending review meetings, developing programmes and working with assistants.
What do you like about the job?
I love empowering people to communicate their needs and supporting families through difficult times. Most of all I love seeing positive change in people's quality of life.
What do you dislike about the job?
There's never enough time, there's always too much to do.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
To get as much experience as they can within the voluntary sector or shadowing, or at least try to work with a communicatively impaired client group to get some experience.
What job do you think you might do after this role in terms of career progression?
Well I got to the top of the clinical ladder in the NHS and was being dragged into management but I didn't want to manage, I wanted to treat, so I left and set up my company in London. Now it's a case of the ongoing commitment to developing my clinical skills and therapeutic expertise, developing my independent company; I can't see myself moving back to the NHS.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
I think SLT is a really valuable profession but it's also an extremely flexible one; it allows you to work within a huge variety of different settings from lecturing, through to hospital work, through to working with children in schools. You can specialise in all sorts of areas, from swallowing to communication aids. Also, it's a female dominated profession and I think that makes it a relatively easy one in which to combine a family and professional career; your needs are more likely to be understood.
Do you mind us publishing your salary
I work privately and only 2 days a week so it's not really relevant. I would say for job seekers, a clinical case load on the NHS will earn anything from £17,000 to £60,000 a year, depending on experience.