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What Does a Speech Therapist Do, Exactly

Speech is a tool that we use every day, often without much consideration. But when speech is impeded, due to trauma, birth abnormality, or cognitive disorder, a Speech Therapist or Speech Language Pathologist can be of great value. Speech therapists assess needs and create an individualized treatment program for the patient. They often work collaboratively, as part of a multidisciplinary team which include other professionals such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, nurses, physicians, social workers, audiologists, psychologists, and educators. Working as a speech therapist requires patience and the ability to build relationships and provide emotional support.

Speech therapists work with patients in a variety of settings including schools, private practice, or major medical facilities. Most speech therapists work full time and about half work in schools. A speech therapist is not limited to practicing with patients, they can also teach in a college or university setting, research new methods in field, supervise, manage a clinic or practice, or work in a corporate setting working to improve communication with customers or clients.

Education

As a future speech therapist there is no specific undergraduate degree path you must follow. However, choosing an area of study related to speech pathology will serve you well. Degrees like communications, speech or hearing sciences, and speech disorders are each strong choices. In addition, you will want to be mindful of the prerequisite courses needed in applying to a graduate program. Requirements will vary by institution, but are typically courses in anatomy, phonetics, linguistics, psychology and mathematics. Take advantage of as many opportunities possible to observe clinicians and graduate level-students performing diagnostic and therapy sessions. Record these hours as they will strengthen your application for any graduate-level program.

A masters degree in Speech Language Pathology or Communication Sciences Disorders is a requirement in every state to practice as a speech therapist. Graduate school will provide broad exposure to patients across the lifespan, from infants to geriatrics. You will be given opportunities to practice under the supervision of faculty in many different types of settings. These experiences will help in guiding your particular area of interest and study. Consider becoming fluent in a second language, such as spanish. Doing so will expand the job opportunities available to you later, as it greatly expands the populations with which you can provide service.

Making it Official

Anyone wishing to practice as a speech therapist must be credentialed by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and maintain licensure in their state. Some states require continuing education credits be earned; this also allows individuals to stay up to date on best practices in the field.

Career Outlook

So you’ve decided that becoming a speech therapist is the career for you! Well, the great news is that employment for this occupation is expected rise at 19% — faster than the national average for employment. As the baby-boomer population ages, so too will the occurrence of hearing to speech related loss from strokes or heart attack. Jobs with specific niches toward the aged population will certainly be in demand.