Being the new kid on the block is never easy; something I know on a personal level having attended 5 different schools between the ages of 5 and 18. You need to find out how the various cliques work, who you have something in common with and, even better, who has the potential to be your new best friend. Setting up a brand new service within such an established area as mental health was no different.
One of my first tasks was to discover where I would fit into existing Community Mental Health Teams and identify potential allies. It became evident pretty quickly that the people I spoke to fell into two distinct camps. The majority saw no obvious role for a Speech and Language Therapist on the basis that mental health professionals are already good communicators. However, there was also a small proportion who were curious: to quote one Community Psychiatric Nurse “I don’t know what you’ll do, but I’m looking forward to finding out”. What both groups had in common was a lack of understanding about what Speech and Language Therapists do. So let me clarify for those of you who are, as yet, uninitiated.
Speech and Language Therapists are experts in the multi-faceted aspects of human communication. We possess in-depth knowledge of typical speech and language development and of the ways in which physical, sensory, neurological and psychological factors can lead to communication difficulties, impairments and disorders. We assess communication with reference to such things as phonetics, semantics, syntax and pragmatics, and possess the knowledge and vocabulary to accurately describe how people communicate, down to the finest detail. We also have at our fingertips an extensive range of tools and techniques which can be used to compensate for communication difficulties or rehabilitate speech and language function.
So, surely mental health services should actually be saying “Our job is all about communication. Why do we not have an SLT?”.