Speech and language therapists diagnose and treat disorders of speech, voice and language, and problems with swallowing or feeding. If a total cure is not possible, they assist people to overcome or minimise the difficulties associated with these conditions and provide them with support. Although much of the work is with children, people of all ages are treated.
The problems clients have may be congenital (for example, due to a cleft palate or other physical disability); due to learning difficulties or special educational needs; or caused by injury or a medical condition such as Parkinson’s disease or a stroke.
Speech and language therapists usually see clients on a one-to-one basis but may sometimes make use of group sessions. At the first meeting with a client they assess the problem, observing and making use of a range of tests. When working with children they often begin by observing the child at play with friends or parents and assessing their use of language.
When the assessment has been made, speech and language therapists plan a treatment programme which may be carried out over a long period of time. They may devise exercises to help reduce a stammer, or help a patient recovering from a stroke re-learn how to form sounds. They also advise parents on ways they can help their children by devising home programmes to be carried out for a short time each day.
Speech and language therapists form part of a professional team and as such spend part of their working time attending case conferences with doctors, psychologists, teachers and social workers. They keep detailed records of clients’ progress.
Speech and language therapists usually work 35 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Part-time work and job sharing are often available.
Speech and language therapists are often based in a hospital’s speech and language therapy department and run patients’ clinics there. They also visit patients on hospital wards who are recovering from operations. Many speech and language therapists combine hospital and community work, which can mean they spend part of their day travelling.
Therapists also see clients at health centres, community health clinics, day nurseries, mainstream schools, special schools, day centres, adult training centres, child development centres and sometimes in prisons. Some make home visits to clients. Others work in research or as lecturers in universities.
As a speech and language therapist, you will need:
Most therapists are employed in the NHS, and although based in a speech and language therapy department or clinic, are responsible for work in a particular geographic area. Other posts exist in private hospitals and clinics, in some special schools and with charitable and voluntary organisations.
Some speech and language therapists are self-employed in private practice. Experienced speech and language therapists, particularly those who have obtained further qualifications, may move into teaching and research. There are good prospects of promotion in clinical and management fields.
The NHS has a clearly defined career and promotion structure. Promotion prospects depend on an individual’s willingness to accept increased responsibility and to move from one area to another as suitable vacancies arise.
Opportunities to work overseas exist in English speaking countries.
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