Speech and language therapists (SLTs) work closely with babies, children and adults who have various levels of speech, language and communication problems, and with those who have swallowing, drinking or eating difficulties.
The role can involve working with a diverse client group, including people with physical and learning disabilities, hearing loss/deafness, psychiatric disorders or dementia.
Therapists assess a client's needs before developing individual treatment programmes to enable each client to improve as much as possible.
Treatment plans often involve other people with whom the client has a close relationship, for example family, carers or teachers.
SLTs usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team, alongside other health professionals such as:
- occupational therapists.
They may also liaise with professionals in education and social services.
Tasks vary depending on the type of client, e.g. baby, child or adult, and on the nature of the problem, but may include:
- identifying children's developmental speech and communication difficulties/disorders;
- assessing and treating swallowing and communication difficulties arising from a range of causes, e.g. congenital problems (such as cleft palate) or acquired disorders after a stroke or injury;
- devising, implementing and revising relevant treatment programmes;
- advising carers on implementing treatment programmes and training other professionals in therapy delivery;
- assessing communication environments;
- monitoring and evaluating clients' progress;
- working with clients on a one-to-one basis, and in groups, to deliver therapy;
- writing and maintaining confidential client case notes and reports, as well as information for clients, carers and other professionals;
- managing a caseload taking account of priority cases, waiting lists, successful outcomes, referral and discharge of service users;
- working with others to improve the effectiveness of service delivery.
Therapists operating at more senior levels may be involved in the following:
- conducting personal development reviews with colleagues;
- supporting/supervising newly qualified speech and language therapists and speech and language therapy assistants;
- setting organisational and personal objectives;
- planning and delivering training sessions;
- contributing to the implementation and evaluation of projects and developments;
- undertaking clinical audit through the collation of statistical, financial and other data relating to service delivery;
- participating in research projects.
- Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) consist of nine pay bands and are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
- Speech and language therapists in the NHS start on £21,478 (Band 5), rising to £27,901. Other employers, such as charities and local education authorities, offer comparable pay.
- Specialist speech and language therapists (Band 6) can earn from £25,783 to £34,530. Advanced speech and language therapists (Band 7) can earn between £30,764 and £40,558.
Income data from the National Health Service (NHS). Figures are intended as a guide only.
Full-time NHS allied health professionals work 37.5 hours a week. Hours are typically 9am to 5pm, with the possibility of some extra hours as and when required.
There are opportunities for flexible and part-time work/job-sharing.
What to expect
- The workplace may be a hospital, health centre, day-care centre, rehabilitation unit, school or pre-school, a client's home, prison or young offenders' institution. Therapists may work in several different locations during the week.
- Opportunities for self-employment/freelance work exist. Experienced practitioners may do some private work and some will see only private clients.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK, although there are more opportunities in urban areas.
- The work can be challenging due to the heavy workload, expectations of patients and relatives, difficulties in liaising with a range of other professionals and financial/resource constraints. The particular challenges of a post depend on the clients' circumstances, for example congenital disorders, physical and mental disabilities, illness (e.g. Parkinson's disease, throat cancer), drug or alcohol dependency and accidents causing head and neck injuries.
- Although travel within a working day is common, absence from home overnight and overseas work are uncommon.
To practise as a speech and language therapist (SLT) you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to register you must complete an HCPC-approved undergraduate or postgraduate degree in speech and language therapy.
Undergraduate degree courses typically last three or four years full time and cover both theory and clinical practice. Theoretical subjects include:
- child development;
- speech pathology;
- therapeutic methods.
Clinical practice takes place in hospitals, schools, clinics and day centres, under the supervision of qualified therapists.
For most undergraduate courses you will need three A-levels or five Scottish Highers. Some providers will also want specific GCSE and A-levels such as English and biology. Check with course providers for details. Applications for undergraduate degrees are made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
If your degree is in a subject other then speech and language therapy, you must undertake an HCPC-approved two-year postgraduate course in order to qualify. A degree in related fields such as psychology, social sciences and linguistics will increase your chances of being considered. Applications for postgraduate study are made directly to the relevant institution.
For a list of undergraduate and postgraduate courses see the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT).
Competition for places on courses is strong and pre-entry experience and knowledge of the profession is essential. Before applying, try and arrange an observation session at your local speech and language therapy service.
You will need to have:
- excellent communication and listening skills - to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds and to motivate clients and gain trust. Clients may be uncooperative because they are frightened, frustrated or disorientated by their situation;
- patience - progress may be slow, involving repetitive exercises to aid clients who have problems memorising, processing and retaining information;
- creativity and problem-solving skills - to design programmes appropriate to different learning styles and communication issues;
- teamworking skills - for interacting with other professionals;
- organisational skills and flexibility - to deal with a range of clients in varied settings;
- ability to be at ease in a clinical environment.
Empathy, assertiveness, tact, a sense of humour and physical and mental stamina are also important qualities. A driving licence is essential for community speech and language therapists, particularly in rural areas, as there is frequent travel between different settings. Knowledge of Welsh, Gaelic or community languages may be a requirement or an advantage in some parts of the UK.
Relevant work experience, including voluntary work, is useful. Experience can include working with children and adults with a learning disability, the elderly or disabled people, particularly those recovering from a stroke or head injury. Try contacting local nursing homes, schools or stroke groups to ask for work experience. It is also possible to gain experience by working as an SLT assistant/support worker or bilingual co-worker under the guidance of a qualified SLT.
Competition for entry-level speech and language therapist (SLT) posts is fierce and geographical flexibility is important.
The majority of speech and language therapists (SLTs) are employed by trusts of the National Health Service (NHS) and work in schools, hospitals, clinics, health centres and day-care centres.
There is often a choice of departments and a wide range of areas in which to work. Some mainstream work may be managed by local authorities.
Some therapists are employed directly by:
- schools (both mainstream and special);
- voluntary and charitable organisations;
- general practitioner (GP) practices;
- education and social services departments;
- higher education (lecturing and research);
- organisations such as residential homes for the elderly or people with learning difficulties.
There are also opportunities for qualified SLTs to work abroad.
With experience, some speech and language therapists choose to move into self-employment.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Health Jobs UK
- HSCRecruit.com - health and social care jobs in Northern Ireland.
- NHS Authorities and Trusts
- NHS Jobs - for vacancies in England and Wales.
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT)
Vacancies for speech and language therapy assistants and bilingual co-workers may be advertised in the local press. These posts are useful ways of gaining work experience before applying for an undergraduate or postgraduate course.
Vacancies are also handled by specialist recruitment agencies, such as Labmed. Agencies are most useful for short-term and local posts.
On qualifying with an accredited undergraduate or postgraduate degree (if your first degree is not in speech and language therapy), you are eligible to register with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). Registration with the HCPC is essential in order to practise as a speech and language therapist.
The first year of work is spent under supervision as a newly qualified practitioner (NQP) in order to become a full member of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT).
SLTs are responsible for their own personal development. In order to retain HCPC registration, you must be able to show that you are maintaining and developing professional standards and are up to date with the latest clinical procedures relating to your area of work.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged through internal NHS courses and through training run by regional and specific interest groups.
Specific interest groups and the RCSLT advertise their courses and seminars in the RCSLT Bulletin. Training covers a range of topics, for example:
- children with severe language difficulties;
- adult neurology;
- dysphagia (problems with swallowing);
- clinical effectiveness.
Other CPD activities include observation of other therapists' practice, peer review of performance, case discussion and video analysis. Full details of the range of activities and resources available are on the RCSLT website.
There are also opportunities to undertake a higher degree, such as a postgraduate certificate, diploma or Masters, or a PhD by research.
First posts are often within the National Health Service and involve working from one of several locations, such as health centres, hospital clinics and special schools.
In your first year of practice you will have a general caseload and will normally work with both adults and children.
Many qualified SLTs choose to specialise in a particular client group or disorder, although others move between client groups.
Senior therapist positions exist in clinical specialisms, management, and research and teaching. A typical career path will often involve increased management responsibilities.
Self-employment is another option and support to therapists working in independent practice is provided by the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice (ASLTIP).