A Typical Day as a Speech & Language Therapist
I was asked recently to describe a typical day working as a Speech & Language Therapist. A simple question, right? WRONG! After quite some deliberation and a few false starts, I had a dawning realisation. I was struggling to describe a typical day as an SLT because THERE IS NO SUCH THING! In fact, the unpredictability and variation is exactly why I enjoy being a speech and language therapist. I can say with complete honesty, I have never, in 14 years as a speech and language therapist, been bored at work. How many people can say that, hand on heart? At work I have been amazed, stressed, amused, overwhelmed, challenged, excited, sad, worried, fascinated…. and the list goes on, but never, ever bored. It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster this speech & language therapy lark!
Why is Speech & Language Therapy so Varied?
There are several reasons why it is difficult to be bored at work if you are a speech and language therapist. First and foremost for me, is the beautiful diversity of people. Now, as a paediatric SLT, I can only really comment on children but I’m sure my colleagues in adult services will agree the following observation: Genuinely and without exception, every client is different. As we train to be SLTs we learn about groups of clients like “neurotypical children”, “children with autism” or “late talkers”. There’s nothing wrong with this, it helps us to learn, but when you actually get out there and meet a few clients who share a diagnosis, it immediately becomes obvious that NO TWO ARE THE SAME! This is all part of the fun! Meeting a new client for the first time, figuring out what motivates them, building a rapport, problem-solving their communication difficulties, watching them progress is the whole point of what we SLTs do and it is endlessly interesting.
Then there is the fact that most speech and language therapy jobs involve working in at least 2 different locations throughout the week. We SLTs can be found in health centres, clinics, hospitals, schools, nurseries, clients’ homes, specialist schools/units, private clinics and even prisons (working, not generally detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure!). Obviously each separate workplace involves a different set of challenges, colleagues and clients.
As well as the range of clients and working environments, and SLT must also make use of a huge variety of skills and roles. In addition to the ‘therapist’ role you signed up for, you often find yourself wearing any combination of heads including, but not exclusively, some of the following:
- trouble-shooter – The usual strategies aren’t working for this particular child (they’re all different remember!), why is that and what are you going to do next?
- artist – No-one else is going to make the reward chart you need to help your clients stay focused in that social skills group next week…
- counsellor – You have a distraught parent in your treatment room because their child has just been diagnosed with autism…
- logistics manager – Exactly how are you going to drive between 4 home visits and still be back to your clinic in time to write up all the case notes? What’s the most time-efficient route? Where will you park?
- child – Yes, if you’re going to build a relationship and get the best out of a child, you need to be able to play like one!
- sneaky sabotager – How are you going to get wee Johnny to ask for that toy car using his voice? You know he can say it but he doesn’t realise that the word gets him a go of his favourite toy. Yes, you’re going to sabotage his favourite car-run game by giving him the track but no cars!
- writer and author – so you know what ‘Phonological Awareness’ means, how are you going to explain clearly what it is in a report for a parent with no prior knowledge of linguistics? And furthermore, who else is going to write you a story crammed full of words beginning with ‘s’ for little Julie’s session tomorrow?
- researcher – a child with a diagnosis of Angelman Syndrome has just landed in your clinic room. What on earth is that?
As a speech & language therapist, you will find yourself in all sorts of roles and, to be fair, any good SLT training course will have prepared you (at least in part!) to take on the many faces of an SLT. If you are considering applying for SLT training, it’s important to be aware that you will have very varied roles to fulfil and to appreciate that you will need to be very flexible in your thinking at all times.
So there you have it. There is no ‘typical’ day in the life of a speech and language therapist and that is exactly why it is such a great vocation to have! You can find out more about training to be a speech and language therapist from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.