Speech and Language Therapist Job Description - Duties, Skills and Requirements
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Speech and Language Therapist Job Description
A speech and language therapist (also known as a speech therapist or speech-language pathologist) is a healthcare professional who works with people suffering from language and communication disorders.
Specifically, speech and language therapists specialize in the prevention, evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of speech disorders, voice disorders, articulation disorders, swallowing disorders, hearing disorders and related cognitive disorders (e.g. disorders related to learning and memory).
Let’s take a detailed look at what the job of an speech and language therapist involves.
Speech-language pathologists work with patients of all ages (i.e. children, teenagers, adults and the elderly), suffering from a wide range of conditions, including children with language disorders, people who are unable to speak or who have difficulty speaking because of a speech impediment (e.g. a stammer / stutter), patients who have suffered a loss of language skills as a result of a stroke, injury, surgery or a neurological illness and people who have problems chewing and swallowing (mastication and deglutition).
A speech and language therapist seeing a patient for the first time carries out a preliminary assessment of the patient’s situation. This involves studying the patient’s medical records and the prescription provided by their doctor.
The therapist also performs a series of speech-language assessments to establish the patient’s condition and needs and on this basis develops a treatment plan designed to reduce or eliminate the disorders identified. The task of a speech and language therapist is to maintain, improve, restore or develop a patient’s ability to communicate, using a range of targeted methods and programs of treatment and rehabilitation that vary according to the disorders or conditions affecting the patient.
For example, conditions such as tongue thrust swallowing, stammering, expressive aphasia (a difficulty expressing oneself), receptive aphasia (a difficulty understanding written and spoken language), selective mutism, and dyslexia, all call for very different types of treatment. The choice of treatment is also affected by the patient’s age and general state of health.
The treatment provided by a speech and language therapist will thus vary depending on the patient’s condition.
It may, for example, involve teaching a patient to produce speech sounds correctly or helping them to strengthen and coordinate the muscles involved in chewing and swallowing. In patients whose communication skills are compromised, the task of a speech language therapist is to teach alternative forms of communication, such as sign language or Braille. The progress of the treatment is kept constantly monitored and is reviewed if the expected functional recovery goals are not met.
Another key task of a speech therapist is providing patients and their families with advice on living and coping with speech and language disorders.
Speech and language therapists work on an employed or self-employed basis at public and private healthcare facilities of various kinds, including hospitals, clinics, outpatient centres, rehabilitation units, as well as in nurseries and schools and centres for children and adults with hearing or language impairments.
Further career options include opening a private practice, joining the team of a multi-disciplinary medical centre or offering home care services.
Speech and language therapists often collaborate with a range of other medical and health professionals, including doctors (especially neurologists and ear nose and throat specialists), psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychomotor therapists. The aim of such collaborative methods is to provide patients with coordinated care and improve their overall quality of life through an integrated holistic approach.
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Speech and Language Therapist Responsibilities and Tasks
The tasks of a speech and language therapist include:
- Identifying and evaluating speech and language and disorders
- Creating treatment and rehabilitation plans programs based on the specific needs of patients
- Monitor the progress of patients receiving speech-language therapy
- Teaching alternative forms of communication to patients with impaired speech and language skills
- Advising patients and their families on living and coping with speech and language disorders
How to Become a Speech and Language Therapist - Education and Training
As speech-language pathology is a branch of rehabilitative medicine, aspiring therapists are required to undergo a form of medical training. The theoretical training they receive typically covers basic medical sciences such as anatomy, otorhinolaryngology and neurology, social sciences such as psychology, pedagogy, linguistics and phonetics, as well as more specialist subjects relating specifically to speech-language therapy, including developmental language disorders, stammers, voice disorders, neurological language disorders, speech disorders and swallowing disorders.
To ensure trainee therapists are fully prepared for the professional world, the theory is supplemented by a significant amount of hands-on experience. Speech and language therapists typically undertake extensive placements in clinics, hospitals, outpatient facilities, schools, pre-schools and nurseries and rehabilitation centers.
In some countries, there may be a legal requirement for speech and language therapists to obtain a license before they can practice.
Finally, it is also important for speech and language therapists to keep their skills and knowledge updated and stay abreast of the latest technology and treatment protocols - for example, by attending seminars and conferences and reading scientific literature and journals.
Speech and Language Therapist Skills and Qualifications
Speech and language therapists need the following skills and abilities:
- Expertise in the prevention, evaluation, diagnosis, rehabilitation and treatment of language disorders
- Ability to implement targeted speech-language therapy for patients suffering from a range of different disorders
- Ability to work as part of a team with other professionals
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Empathy and sensitivity
- Flexibility and patience
The wide range of specializations within the field of speech-language pathology means therapists have a variety of career development paths to choose from. These include focusing on a specific group of patients (such as children, adults or the elderly) or treating a specific type of disorder (such as dyslexia, speech impediments, stammers, aphasia or tongue thrust swallowing). A therapist may decide, for example, to work with patients who have suffered a stroke or a head injury, or to specialize in developmental disorders (i.e. language, cognitive and learning disorders in children).
Another possible career option for a speech and language therapist is to specialize in sign language interpreting or Braille transcription and facilitate communication for people who are hearing or vision impaired.
Top Reasons to Work as a Speech and Language Therapist
The role of a speech and language therapist is a practical and varied one.
Every patient’s story is different, while every condition or disorder calls for a unique therapeutic approach. A common development is the tendency for speech therapists to work within multi-disciplinary teams, alongside physiotherapists and psychologists. By pooling their resources and exchanging knowledge, such teams aim to meet patients’ needs by applying a holistic approach.
One of the biggest motivating factors for speech and language therapists is seeing their patients make tangible progress as a result of the therapy provided: the feeling of making a difference in people’s lives can be hugely rewarding.
Another advantage of the role is the great variety of settings in which speech language therapists are employed, which include hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centres, schools, private practices and home care providers. Finally, the health and medical sector is a growing market in which there is a constant demand for qualified personnel.