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Speech and language therapy: area of practice

Managing difficulties with communication or eating, drinking and swallowing.

Speech and language therapy is a diverse clinical field that offers a service for managing difficulties with communication, speech and language, and eating, drinking and swallowing (EDS). Therapists can choose to specialise in early years, childhood or adult disorders.

All cases start with a referral, which is followed by a detailed case history and assessment. This includes investigating family history, environmental factors or an injury that provoked an adult condition, as well as a clinical assessment. Speech and language therapists often work closely with other healthcare professionals such as paediatricians and clinical psychologists to determine problems and develop a co-ordinated programme of care. Therapists provide direct intervention, working with a client one to one or in a small group.

Indirect intervention focuses on helping parents and carers to work with their children or loved ones, and to provide as supportive an environment as possible. Cases are closely monitored so that therapists can see whether there has been any long-term improvement or if the client needs ongoing support. Not all conditions can be remedied, so therapists may also help clients to develop strategies to manage their problems.

Therapists work in:

  • clinics
  • health centres
  • hospitals
  • day centres
  • schools
  • nurseries
  • homes

For therapy to be effective you need to work in partnership with families, parents and carers, as well as a team of other therapists, healthcare professionals and agencies such as social services and education.

Skills required

  • Analytical skills to assess cases
  • Well developed communication and interpersonal skills
  • The ability to assume responsibility, to work independently as well as under supervision
  • Professionalism and the ability to follow policies and procedures

Starting out

Speech and language therapists need either a three to four-year undergraduate degree or a two-year postgraduate qualification and must register with the Health and Care Professions Council. Newly qualified therapists assume responsibility for part of the caseload under close supervision and responsibilities will increase.

There will be opportunities to develop your skills, such as negotiation and liaison, which can be transferred to another area if you choose to change client groups. A good service provides well-structured support. Look for one that has therapists at a range of grades, opportunities for ongoing development, support from peers and opportunities for continuing professional development.