Speech and language therapy : gender, science and the health division of labour
This research arose from concerns over the marginal position of speech and language therapists within the UK health care system, at a time when a case based on equal pay legislation comparing their work with that of clinical psychologists nears completion. While quantitative data confirm a difficulty for the NHS in recruiting and retaining speech and language therapists, no qualitative research has explored their work experiences within a sociological framework. The present study aims to address this gap. The empirical findings are based on qualitative interviews with forty speech and language therapists which employed feminist principles in research methodology including open-endedness, disclosure of values and reciprocity. Themes emerging included the 'invisibility' of the profession in accessing careers advice and gender-stereotyping of subject choices and careers advice at school. In contrast to the humanistic elements which led people into speech and language therapy, the professional education emphasised the scientific aspects of human communication, reflecting a medicalised view of health. Lesser attention was paid to humanistic subjects such as counselling and to the therapeutic applications of formal teaching. Therapists' clinical experiences focused on the relationship between work in the public and private spheres, organisational concerns and the nature of clinical practice. For instance, treatment for people with communication impairments was regarded as a low priority owing to the tendency of formalised health care to prioritise bodily health over mental and communicative well-being. The research considers whether the 'scientisation' of the profession is an effective route to counteract its marginalisation, since in pursuing this route it is required to distance itself from the female-gendered elements of its practice. This dilemma is examined against wider social concerns in which the work of women in the 'reproduction' of people is devalued on a global scale while the 'mainstream' activity of scientific work continues to be highly-prized.