As a student Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) nearing the end of your training, you begin to feel a bit like you might know a few things. After four years of placements and the range of experiences you have amassed through interaction with a variety of clients and their families, you start to think ‘Ok, I’m beginning to get the hang of this.’ Your tentative steps become surer as you get to grips with assessments and hypotheses and management plans and the wonderful array of devices in the SLT toolkit. But, as a fledgling clinician it is also important to sometimes silence the internal noise of ‘What does this test result mean?’, ‘Which therapy approach do I think is best?’, ‘How many intervention sessions should I give this client?’ And just listen.
In a lecture called ‘Insider accounts: Living with communication disability’, Cathy Sparkes and Sam Simpson provided us with this opportunity. They invited a group of their clients with a range of communication disabilities to come in and talk to all the final year student SLTs at UCL. With our assessor’s hats firmly off, we were able to sit back and listen to people’s lived experiences. All the speakers were very generous with their stories, sharing the painful, puzzling and even playful moments of coming to terms with their respective communication disabilities, both acquired and lifelong, and moving forward with their lives. Many accounts were the result of a number of years of experience and reflection, and it was partly this that made the session so unique for us.
As an SLT, you are generally involved for a very small snapshot of a client’s journey – a few months, maybe a year if you’re lucky. To borrow an analogy, you are ‘a stripe in the scarf of their story’ . But this experience enabled us to more fully appreciate the stripes that come later on, when our input may have finished and our clients have had to renegotiate what it means to live in the world. Furthermore, the speakers were able to give us access to what some of our clients might be feeling now, as we’re meeting them in the early stages after a stroke or brain injury. For example, it may be easy for us to categorise our clients in the light of what they can outwardly communicate. However, the Comprehensive Aphasia Test does not allow us to measure the presence or otherwise of someone’s inner voice – you know, the one that narrates your thoughts and feelings – I had never before considered that loss of spoken language might also lead to inner silence, as so articulately described by one of our speakers.
It was a thought-provoking and at times, moving morning, and overwhelming feedback from the students was that we felt our practice would be changed as a result. The session reminded us to always dig deeper than what we might be presented with on the surface, step outside of our therapeutic comfort zones to provide flexible and individualised support to our clients, and of course, to listen.
Student Speech and Language Therapist, UCL
 McIntosh J., Charles N., Lyon B. & James K. (2011). The Strands of Speech and Language Therapy: Weaving a Therapy Plan for Neurorehabilitation. Milton Keynes: Speechmark