Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson’s disease, a cleft palate, or autism.
Speech-language pathologists typically do the following:
- Evaluate patients’ levels of speech, language, or swallowing difficulty
- Identify treatment options
- Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan that addresses patients’ specific functional needs
- Teach patients how to make sounds and improve their voices
- Work with patients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow
- Counsel patients and families on how to cope with communication and swallowing disorders
Speech-language pathologists work with patients who have problems with speech and language, including related cognitive or social communication problems. Their patients may be unable to speak at all, or they may speak with difficulty or have rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering. Speech-language pathologists may work with people who are unable to understand language or with those who have voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or a harsh voice.
Speech-language pathologists also must complete administrative tasks, including keeping accurate records. They record their initial patient evaluations and diagnoses, track treatment progress, and note any changes in a patient’s condition or treatment plan.
Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or the elderly. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems, such as those resulting from strokes or a cleft palate.
In medical facilities, speech-language pathologists work with physicians and surgeons, social workers, psychologists, and other healthcare workers. In schools, they work with teachers, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities. For more information on teachers, see the profiles on preschool teachers, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, and special education teachers.
Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. They must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.
Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. Although master’s programs do not require a particular undergraduate degree for admission, certain courses must be taken before entering a program. Required courses vary by institution.
Graduate programs often include courses in speech and language development, age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, and swallowing disorders. These programs also include supervised clinical experience.
The Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, accredits education programs in speech-language pathology. Graduation from an accredited program is required for certification and, often, for state licensure.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Almost all states require speech-language pathologists to be licensed. A license requires at least a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience. Many states require graduation from an accredited master’s program to get a license. For specific requirements, contact your state’s medical or health licensure board.
Speech-language pathologists can earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Certification satisfies some or all of the requirements for state licensure and may be required by some employers.
Speech-language pathologists who work in schools may need a specific teaching certification. For specific requirements, contact your state’s department of education or the private institution in which you are interested.
Analytical skills. Speech-language pathologists must select the most appropriate diagnostic tools and analyze the results to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Communication skills. Speech-language pathologists need to communicate test results, diagnoses, and proposed treatments in a way that patients and their families can understand.
Compassion. Speech-language pathologists work with people who are often frustrated by their difficulties. Speech-language pathologists must be able to support emotionally demanding patients and their families.
Critical-thinking skills. Speech-language pathologists must be able to adjust their treatment plans as needed, finding alternative ways to help their patients.
Detail oriented. Speech-language pathologists must take detailed notes on patient progress and treatment.
Listening skills. Speech-language pathologists must listen to a patient’s symptoms and concerns to decide on the appropriate course of treatment.