Speech and Language Therapist

The Job and What's Involved

Speech and language therapists assess, diagnose and treat people who have speech, language and communication problems. Their aim is to help people communicate to the best of their ability.

Therapists work with clients from a wide range of backgrounds. Clients are of all ages, although about 70 per cent are children.

Speech and language therapists assess and treat people who have difficulty with making the 'sounds of speech' and with those who find it difficult to use or understand language.

They may also work with people who have eating, chewing and swallowing problems.

Clients' problems may be due to:

  • Learning disabilities.
  • Physical disabilities.
  • Mental health problems.
  • Medical conditions, such as a stroke.
  • Conditions that can lead to loss of functions, such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or dementia.
  • Mouth or throat cancer.
  • Head injuries.
  • Hearing loss and deafness.
  • A cleft palate.

Therapists' work involves:

  • Identifying the client's problem.
  • Devising a treatment programme for the client.
  • Putting the treatment plan into action, including working with those who are closest to the client, such as parents, carers or partners and coaching them in how to provide support to the client.
  • Monitoring the client's progress and, if necessary, revising the treatment programme.
  • Keeping records.

Therapists may deliver therapy on a one-to-one basis or in groups. They liaise with a wide range of other professionals from the health, education and social care sectors, including doctors, teachers, physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists and health visitors. They may have support from a speech and language therapy assistant.

Speech and language therapists generally work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Part-time work and job share are both common.

Work locations for speech and language therapists are varied. They include community health centres, hospital wards and outpatients' departments, schools, day centres, prisons, young offenders' institutions and clients' homes.

Some local traveling is usually required, so a driving licence is useful.

Newly qualified speech and language therapists in the NHS earn around £18,698 a year. Therapists working in and around London usually receive extra allowances.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are currently 10,524 registered speech and language therapists practicing throughout the UK. Most of them work within the NHS. Others work within education services or charities. A few work independently and treat patients privately.

There is a shortage of registered speech and language therapists so demand is high.

Job vacancies are advertised in the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists' (RCSLT) fortnightly Bulletin Supplement and on the internet, including recruitment agencies' websites and www.jobs.nhs.uk.

Education and Training

Becoming a speech and language therapist requires a degree or postgraduate degree and registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC).

Entry to degree courses is usually with at least three A levels/five H grades, plus five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). A range of A level/H grade subjects is acceptable, while GSCE's/S grades often need to include English, science, maths and a modern language.

Other qualifications may be accepted, either on their own or in combination with A levels/H grades. They include relevant AS levels, BTEC national and BTEC/SQA higher nationals, Scottish Group Awards (SGA) and the International Baccalaureate.

Entry to recognised postgraduate degree courses is with at least a second-class honours degree. There is some flexibility about acceptable degree subjects, with linguistics, psychology and biomedical sciences among subjects commonly accepted.

Individual universities and colleges may prefer or require applicants to have observed speech therapy in practice or to have had relevant experience.

Some people gain experience as speech and language assistants, clinical support workers or assistant practitioners. They work under the direction of qualified therapists and may conduct routine work with clients on a one-to-one basis, help in group therapy sessions, prepare rooms and equipment, look after equipment, receive clients and give them any necessary personal help.

Exact entry requirements vary between courses, so candidates must check carefully.

Entrants to speech and language therapy training have their backgrounds checked to make sure that they are suitable for work with children and vulnerable adults. They are also medically screened to make sure that they are suitable for this training.

Students on speech and language therapy courses that lead to registration with the HPC usually have their tuition fees paid in full by the NHS and are eligible for a means-tested NHS bursary.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most speech and language therapists train by studying a full-time degree course. Sixteen institutions throughout the UK currently offer such courses. Course titles vary and include speech and language therapy, human communication, clinical language sciences and psychology and speech pathology. Courses last three or four years and are listed on the RCSLT, HPC and NHS Careers websites.

University of Central England in Birmingham offers a part-time degree course. It takes two days a week for up to six years.

Five universities offer full-time recognised postgraduate qualifications. Courses last two years and lead to postgraduate diplomas or masters degrees.

Courses combine academic study and workplace training. Study areas include speech and language sciences, behavioural sciences and biomedical sciences. The practical element of courses is very important. It usually combines weekly clinical placements with periods of longer placements. These may take place in a variety of settings, such as schools, NHS hospitals and community health clinics.

New entrants work under supervision for their first year and usually gain experience in several settings. They normally start with a general caseload, working with both adults and children and covering a range of conditions.

To maintain their registration, therapists must undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for a minimum of ten half-days, or equivalent, a year. This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A speech and language therapist should:

  • Enjoy working with people.
  • Have excellent verbal, non-verbal and written communication skills.
  • Be able to relate to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.
  • Be good at exploring problems and finding creative ways to solve them.
  • Be concerned for people's health and well-being.
  • Be sensitive and responsive.
  • Be patient.
  • Be skilled at inspiring people to change the way they do things.
  • Have negotiating skills.
  • Work well on their own and as part of a team of other professionals.

Your Long Term Prospects

Most therapists begin to seek more senior positions after gaining a few years' experience. Many go on to specialise in working with specific client groups (e.g. with school-age children or adults with learning disabilities) or in particular areas of clinical work (e.g. deafness and hearing impairment).

They may be promoted to management posts. Some therapists move into research or teaching.

It is possible to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Health Professions Council (HPC),
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road,
London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Website: www.hpc-uk.org

NHS Careers,
PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk
and www.jobs.nhs.uk

Royal College of Speech
and Language Therapists (RCSLT),
2 White Hart Yard, London SE1 1NX
Tel: 020 7378 1200
Website: www.rcslt.org

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