Supporting people with aphasia to ‘settle into a new way to be’: speech and language therapists’ views on providing psychosocial support

Sarah Northcott, Alan Simpson, Becky Moss, Nafiso Ahmed, Katerina Hilari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Background People with aphasia are at risk of becoming depressed and isolated. Online surveys have found that the majority of speech and language therapists (SLTs) lack confidence in addressing the psychological needs of people with aphasia. Aims To explore how SLTs conceptualize the scope of their role; barriers and facilitators to SLTs addressing psychosocial needs; and SLTs’ experiences of specialist training and support, and working with mental health professionals (MHPs). Methods & Procedures Focus groups were conducted in stroke healthcare settings. Purposive sampling was used when selecting sites so as to capture a range of experiences. Results were analysed using framework analysis. Outcomes & Results Twenty‐three SLTs took part in six focus groups. Participants’ psychosocial work included counselling‐type interactions, psycho‐education, working with families, facilitating peer support and training other healthcare professionals. There was lack of consensus on the scope of the SLT role. Many expressed a sense of conflict, both perceiving it as valuable to spend time addressing psychological well‐being, while simultaneously feeling uneasy if they deviated from ‘direct SLT’ work. Barriers to addressing psychosocial well‐being were: emotionally challenging nature of this work, particularly for those who felt unsupported; caseload and time pressures; attitudes of senior managers and commissioners; difficulties measuring and documenting more ‘fluid’ psychosocial work; and the complexity of the needs and backgrounds of some patients. Enabling factors were: specialist ongoing support; peer support from colleagues; experience; support of management; and personal belief. Specialist training was valued. It changed how participants viewed the therapist–client relationship (more client led); the assessment and goal‐setting process; and gave them more confidence to acknowledge client emotions. However, many felt that there was a need for ongoing specialist advice, and to be able to see approaches modelled for this client group. In terms of MHPs, a subset of stroke‐specialist clinical psychologists worked directly with people with marked aphasia and families, as well as supporting the multidisciplinary team to provide holistic care. However, a main theme was that participants perceived many MHPs did not consider people with aphasia as ‘appropriate candidates’ for psychological input. Conclusions & Implications All participants cared about the emotional well‐being of their clients; however, they identified a number of barriers to people with aphasia receiving appropriate psychological support. A cultural shift, whereby psychological care for people with aphasia is seen as valuable, feasible and necessary, delivered collaboratively by SLTs, MHPs and the wider team, may improve services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-29
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

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