Speech and Language Therapy Jobs and Careers
Speech and language difficulties are experienced by people of all ages, from children just entering schools to mature people who have suffered from strokes. A speech and language therapist's (SLT) job is to use their skills and knowledge to address speech, language and communication issues and thereby enable these people to communicate freely.
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An SLT works closely in a team with health professionals and teachers in dealing with people who have problems such as difficulty in producing speech, in understanding or using language, problems with stuttering or stammering, recovering speech after a stroke or head injury, communicating with a learning disability or physical disability, communicating when living with dementia or psychiatric disorders, or people who have problems swallowing.
What is Involved in Speech and Language Therapy Jobs?
Speech and language therapists ascertain clients' needs and develop treatment programs to address their individual issues. These plans may involve family, teachers or carers. The therapists will also work with teachers, occupational therapists, social services, psychologists, nurses and doctors.
Depending on the exact sphere of their work, a speech and language therapist's daily work may include:
- Organising and managing lists of current and waiting patients, establishing priority cases, closing patient files, referring patients on to other professionals, etc.
- Working with individual clients and groups to deliver speech and language therapy treatment.
- Working with children to identify their difficulties and disorders relating to the development of speech and communication abilities.
- Formulating appropriate treatment plans and putting these into action, revising where required.
- Working with other members of the care team and/or to ensure consistent delivery of treatment.
- Training other members of the speech and language team to implement therapy programmes.
- Monitoring and evaluating the client's progress with the treatment programme.
- Assessing patients experiencing swallowing and communication difficulties arising from injury, strokes or congenital problems such as cleft palates, and devising treatment programmes.
- Writing and updating patient case notes, to ensure information is current and available to other professionals and for future treatment.
- Supervising other assistant staff (if in a management role), training and supporting as required.
- Delivering training as required.
- Contributing to research projects.
Is a Speech and Language Therapy Job Right for You?
To work as a speech and language therapist, you will need most of the following strengths and personal qualities.
- A genuine desire to help people, with the attributes of empathy and tactfulness.
- Superb communication skills, with people of all ages and backgrounds.
- A high level of patience, necessary for long term development with clients who may become upset or frustrated.
- A friendly and reassuring manner.
- Creativity to formulate programmes that will suit individual communication problems and learning styles.
- The ability to work to a consistently high level.
- A desire to research and constantly update knowledge and skills.
- The ability to work consistently well under pressure.
- Team working skills for working with health professionals and care providers, as well as family members.
- Organisation, management and administration skills.
- High levels of professional integrity.
- Comfort with working in clinical environments.
- A driving licence if working within the community.
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Environment and Hours
As an allied health professional working within the National Health service, a speech and language therapist can expect to earn a regular week of 37.5 hours, mostly during standard office hours. There will be occasional overtime hours depending on requirements.
The environment is usually clinical, care or personal support related. You may be working in a health centre or hospital, day care centre or school. Alternatively, you might be in someone's home or in a prison. If working within the community, your work situations may vary enormously.
Increasingly, speech and language therapists are working on a freelance basis, undertaking private work for individuals and health agencies.
Entry Requirements for Speech and Language Therapy Jobs
To study to be a speech and language therapist at a university or college, you will usually need a minimum of two high grade A levels and five GCSEs. Favoured subjects are psychology, physiology, communication studies, linguistics, human biology or biological science, or social science. Other qualifications may be accepted than A levels, such as Scottish qualifications and access courses.
Degree courses are three or four years long, with accreditation by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. 18 universities offer programmes in this area, combining theoretical and clinical studies in hospitals, day centres, clinics, etc. Graduates can then receive a certification from the Health Professions Council which qualifies them to work as a therapist within the NHS. For those wishing to continue their education, seven universities offer postgraduate courses.
Salaries and Prospects
Upon entering work, most recently qualified speech and language therapists work for 12 months with a wide range of cases. Starting salary within the NHS is just over £20,000 a year.
After this time, they specialise in a particular clinical area or client group. Some therapists decide to commence research, teaching or administrative management at this point. Salaries rise to the range £24,000-£32,000.
At a senior level, salaries start at around £33,000 and rise to about £42,000. Combined with senior management responsibilities, the highest salaries can be £55,000 a year.