Speech-language pathology is a field of expertise concerned with the study and treatment of people who have speech, language, and swallowing difficulties. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with people of all ages to diagnose and treat communication conditions and disorders.
What Is a Speech-Language Pathologist?
Speech-language pathologists, also called “speech therapists,” work with patients on a broad range of physical and cognitive communication disorders: issues with articulation, stuttering, word finding, semantics, syntax, phonics, vocalization, and swallowing. These disorders have a variety of causes, such as autism, stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, a cleft palate, and psychological issues, among others.
SLPs are typically part of a rehabilitation team that can include physical therapists, occupational therapists, audiologists, and psychologists.
SLPs work in educational and clinical settings such as:
- Physicians’ offices
- Preschools, K–12 schools*, and colleges/universities
- Private clinics
- Nursing homes
- Rehabilitation centers
- Research laboratories
What Disorders Do Speech Pathologists Treat?
Speech-language pathologists treat people of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens. They’re trained to help clients with problems in three key areas: speech, language, and related disorders.
SLPs help clients work on speech-related issues such as the following:
- Fluency: “Fluency” refers to how sounds, syllables, words, and phrases flow together when speaking quickly. Fluency disorders include cluttering (too-rapid speech with an odd rhythm) and stuttering (involuntary pauses and repetition of sounds).
- Voice: Voice difficulties include hoarseness—which is often caused by nodules or polyps on the vocal folds—and abnormal pitch.
- Articulation: Articulation disorders involve issues such as substitution of one sound for another, slurring of speech, or indistinct speech.
Speech-language pathologists treat language disorders such as the following:
- Aphasia: Typically caused by stroke or head trauma, aphasia is an inability to understand or produce language because of damage to certain areas of the brain.
- Language-based learning disabilities: These neurological differences affect skills such as listening, reasoning, speaking, reading, and writing.
- Pragmatics: SLPs work with people who have difficulty understanding social cues and communication rules, such as turn-taking.
SLPs usually treat the following related disorders in conjunction with healthcare team members, such as gastroenterologists and audiologists.
- Swallowing: Swallowing and feeding are also issues addressed by SLPs. Referred to as dysphagia, a swallowing disorder can have consequences, such as poor nutrition and unhealthy weight loss, and occurs both in children and adults.
- Hearing loss: SLPs treat people with hearing loss to help them develop lip-reading skills and other alternative forms of communication.
Due to the varying nature of the job, speech-language pathologists need to be good at working with all types of clients and situations. A skilled speech-language pathologist is caring, resourceful, and able to develop individualized plans tailored to each patient’s needs. Some primary job responsibilities of speech-language pathologists include:
- Perform patient screenings to detect and diagnose speech-related disorders.
- Diagnose and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders.
- Design tailored treatment plans for the unique needs of each patient.
- Help patients develop speech skills.
- Train and educate family members or caregivers on how to best help with the patient’s condition.
Some SLPs employ speech-language pathology assistants to help them balance the workload.
What Education Is Required to Become a Speech Pathologist?
To become a speech-language pathologist, you must first earn your bachelor’s degree in a related field of study, or otherwise complete leveling coursework if your bachelor’s degree is in another area. Aspiring SLPs then complete a specialized graduate program, such as a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, which typically takes two years.
After earning their degree, graduates usually complete a clinical fellowship year (CFY). SLPs often must apply for a temporary state license to practice during this fellowship. Most clinical fellowships last for 36 weeks, for a minimum of 35 hours per week.
Additionally, in some states, aspiring speech-language pathologists must complete the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), administered through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). The CCC-SLP is considered the gold-standard credential in the field.
Once their education is complete, candidates must pass the Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology to earn state licensure, among other requirements, depending on the state. If the educational program is in Candidate Accreditation status, graduates often need to obtain their CCC in order to apply to states to have their status recognized in the first place. Most students take the exam during their clinical fellowship year.
What Is the Average Salary of a Speech Pathologist?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a speech-language pathologist was $77,510 in 2018. However, salaries for SLPs vary significantly depending on work experience, educational level, and job setting.
ASHA’s 2019 Annual Salary Report states that the median salary was $74,000 for SLP clinical service providers and $100,000 for SLP administrators or supervisors. The West was the U.S. region with the highest median salary, $85,000. SLPs with 20 or more years of experience received a median salary of $100,000.
The projected growth for SLP jobs is 27% from 2018 to 2028, which is much higher than the national average of 5%. With the rising demand for an estimated 41,900 new speech-language pathologists in the next ten years, it’s clear that a career in speech-language pathology is an excellent choice.
Due to the aging population, rising school enrollment, and increasing bilingualism in the United States, speech-language pathology is an in-demand medical profession with an extremely positive future job outlook. With opportunities to work in professional environments such as universities, hospitals, and research laboratories, speech-language pathologists have a wide variety of career options to choose from.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP). Designed for working students, the MS-SLP is an online program with four required on-campus residencies on either the USAHS Austin or Dallas campus. The program offers two intakes per year, in January and September. Prepare to make a difference in the lives of clients across the lifespan with a meaningful career in speech therapy!
The Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology education program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is a Candidate for Accreditation by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2200 Research Boulevard, #310, Rockville, MD 20850, 800-498-2071 or 302-296-5700. Candidacy is a “preaccreditation” status with the CAA, awarded to developing or emerging programs for a maximum period of 5 years.
*The candidacy status includes the MS-SLP program offered at Austin, TX and Dallas, TX locations.