speech therapist working with a child

What does a Speech Therapist do?

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A speech therapist (or speech-language pathologist) assists a patient with problems with swallowing or communication disorders caused by hearing loss, strokes, brain injuries, birth defects or a variety of other medical diagnoses that may cause difficulties swallowing or speech impairment. Speech therapists are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. They test the person’s initial ability and improve their ability over time with treatments and various interventions. The focus on communication skills to include language, cognition, and social abilities.

Watch a video to learn what a speech therapist does:

How to Become a Speech Therapist

speech therapist working with a child

A speech therapist must earn a master’s degree, however, one must first earn a bachelors degree. There is not a specific undergraduate degree that graduate speech pathology programs require you to have, but it is encouraged you include communication, language arts, or related coursework while pursuing your bachelor’s degree.

During your graduate training you will receive coursework in speech and language development, age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, and swallowing disorders. Both of these degrees can be earned at a state or private college and university. To work as a speech therapist you must also obtain a license in the state you of plan to practice in. Every state varies on the requirements to practice as a Speech Therapist. For more information check with the state licensure office where you reside more information.

Job Description of a Speech Therapist

Speech therapists diagnose and develop a treatment for people with oral or communication difficulties. They implement treatments and interventions based on their own assessment of the problem and from the referrals they receive from social workers, physicians, or psychologists.

As part of the evaluation of the patient, a speech-language therapist conducts specific tests. These assessments can be standardized, unstandardized, or based off of observations observed. They write and keep on-going documentation of every case from the initial evaluation through the diagnosis, treatment, progress or adjustments, and a patient’s discharge. They carry out the coordination of scheduling, case management, writing lesson plans, or any complete any paperwork that is necessary for documentation. They assist a patient with their effectiveness in communication with aids such as lip reading, sign language, or voice improvement using a variety of techniques and strategies.

Part of the speech therapist duties also incorporates treatment for patients’ that involve and/or educate family members. A speech therapist gathers information from several relevant sources and is able to document and/or record the findings through electronic or written form. They need to remain current technically and use new information on the job. It would be important for a speech-language therapist to assist and care for others, provide emotional support, give medical attention,, and establish interpersonal relationships.

Speech therapists require knowledge in psychology, the English language to include, spelling, structure, content, and composition. They also need to be trained in counseling, therapy methods and medicine. They should have strong social perceptiveness, have good decision and judgment, and must be an active listener.

Free Teacher and Student Resources

American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA)

ASHA.org has an informative article on their website that can also help you plan your education as an audiologist. Visit their Planning Your Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders (link opens in new window) webpage. You can also learn more about Speech Therapy from their Speech-Language Pathology webpage (link opens in a new tab). Note: This page does include an embedded YouTube video that may not play if you are on a school districts internet network. You may need to visit the page again when on another network.

Speech Therapist Career Video Transcript

What might a second grader with a lisp and an elderly person recovering from a stroke share in common? They both may need the services of a speech-language pathologist to improve their ability to speak and to pronounce words clearly. Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults who may be unable to speak, or have rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering.

Speech-language pathologists evaluate the specifics of speech, language, or swallowing problems. Then speech therapists develop an individualized treatment plan to address functional needs— from pronunciation issues or harsh tones to improving vocabulary and sentence structure. Speech-language pathologists also guide patients through exercises that strengthen or develop the muscles used to swallow. They counsel patients and their families on coping with the patient’s condition.

Most speech-language pathologists work full time, though a number of positions are part-time. Most work in schools— where it’s typical to travel between schools during the week or in healthcare facilities. Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree, including supervised clinical experience. Specific coursework —but not a particular college major— may be required to enter a graduate program. All states require credentialing for speech-language pathologists either licensure or registration, depending on the state.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Speech Language Pathologist.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1127.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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