Three weeks into the teletherapy trial to deliver speech therapy for adults and there are signs that Airedale NHS Foundation Trust is on to something big.
I called Steph last week to find out how things were going, and to ask if I could sit in with her during some therapy sessions. A few days later, having got the necessary permissions, there I was sitting in her office while she talked to one of the early participants in the trial. What’s different is that the chap she was talking to was in his living room at home.
But what struck me was how natural the conversation was. Therapist and client were talking away as if they were sitting right next to each other. I guess we’ve got used to talking to friends and family on the screen using platforms like Messenger and Facetime. OK, there’s not quite the same intimacy, but needs must.
And the fact is that Steph’s first client of the day at 9am lives in an area where there is no provision for stammering therapy on the NHS. At the age of 47, he had never had therapy before, and it appeared unlikely that he would be having therapy now had it not been for Airedale. He had heard about the teletherapy programme via the BSA website. This was his third meeting with Steph and the first part of the session explored progress over the previous week. A particular difficulty for him was saying his name, and Steph suggested using a technique for sliding in to the first syllable.
The second client had also come to the programme via the BSA website. Again, NHS speech therapy was not an option for her. Now a graduate, she had flirted with speech therapy at University and was now looking for help at a pretty stressful time in her life.
From a technical point of view, the picture on Steph’s screen was very clear and the sound quality was good. And once Steph learnt how to expand the screen we got a full picture 😊. There was no delay in sound, but one small criticism was that the software didn’t allow both participants to speak at once. So, for example, you couldn’t hear any comments made by the client before Steph stopped speaking.
This is a pilot programme. Its purpose is to test the viability of delivering speech therapy online in terms of efficacy and practicality. At all stages, it’s worth reviewing progress to try to identify any improvements that could be made. So, for example, the software being used is Webex, but are there other platforms available that provide an improved experience without compromising privacy and security? Feedback from the clients is crucial to try and match their expectations. What other technologies can we add on to exceed their expectations? Do speech therapists need to develop different skills to make the most of these technologies?
Teletherapy is a way of reaching people who stammer who find it difficult to access traditional therapy for whatever reason. That could be because there is no NHS provision in your area. It could be because your employer won’t allow you time off work. It could be because getting there is too much of a hassle. It could be because you find face-to-face meetings intimidating. Making speech therapy more accessible must be a good thing.
It was a privilege for me to sit with Steph as she talked to her clients. It was a window into other people’s lives that mirrored many of my own experiences. The job of a therapist is highly skilled and, I suspect, emotionally draining. But seeing the difference you can make must be very rewarding.