If you’re looking for a career that is both challenging and rewarding, speech pathology may be the perfect choice for you. This field offers many opportunities to help people improve their lives, and it’s also a great way to make a difference in your community. But what does a career in speech pathology involve? And what are the steps you need to take to become a speech pathologist? Read on to find out more.
1. What Is Speech Pathology?
Speech pathology is a health profession that focuses on communication and swallowing. Speech pathologists assess, diagnose, treat and help to prevent disorders in these areas of life. Their treatments might include:
- Client/patient education and training about conditions or injuries
- Therapy for speech illness or injuries such as stuttering, cleft lip, or Autism
- Therapy that helps with swallowing problems such as Dysphagia, oral motor deficits, and voice disorders.
A speech pathologist assesses and provides therapy for many different types of communication impairments such as:
- Stuttering is a disruption in the fluency of an individual’s speech. Stuttering is classified by disfluency in three different ways: repetitions, prolongations, and blocks. A person who stutters may repeat a word or syllable multiple times during a single speaking attempt, while another individual might be unable to produce certain words or sounds at all while trying to speak.
- Articulation is the process by which an individual produces speech sounds using the vocal tract to shape the production of sound. It is a complex task requiring cognitive and motor planning.
- Phonology refers to a person’s ability to produce speech sounds using his/her vocal apparatus (larynx, jaw, lips, tongue, etc.) with 1999normal intonation. Whether you can hear it or not, most people with phonological disorders also have difficulty repeating sounds, words, and sentences correctly.
- Phonological disorder -a speech sound disorder that is characterized by distortions of the basic building blocks (phonemes) used to form words. Phonemic patterns are governed by several general rules, such as the number of sounds in a word or syllable, the types of sounds in a word, and the order of sounds.
- Motor speech disorder can happen when there is damage to any part of the vocal mechanism, which can make it difficult for someone to produce understandable speech sounds, even though they are physically capable of doing so. Vocal cord paralysis can be caused by brain injury or stroke; laryngeal cancer; neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and multiple sclerosis; and damage to the vocal cord due to: acid reflux disease (GERD), an infection of the throat or larynx, or voice abuse.
- Cleft Lip and Palate-a developmental anomaly in which there is the incomplete joining of the right and left halves of the upper lip, the right and left halves of the hard palate, or both.
- Dysarthria-a motor speech disorder that affects the muscles that control speech. Dysarthria often accompanies other neurologic diseases such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
- Dysphagia-difficulty in swallowing. This can be caused by a neurological condition such as dysphonia, a disorder of voice production, or pseudobulbar palsy, which is caused by lesions on the brain stem that disrupts voluntary control over the muscles involved in swallowing and speech.
- Language Disorder-Language or speech disorder can happen when there is damage to any part of the areas of the brain that are involved in understanding and producing language.
- Childhood Apraxia of Speech -a child’s inability to plan how to make sounds correctly, no matter how much practice he/she gets. It has nothing to do with motivation. It is not caused by muscle weakness. It is not the same as aphasia, which is an inability to understand or express language due to brain injury or stroke.
2. What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?
As a speech pathologist, your job will involve:
- Diagnosing communication disorders, especially those related to speech
- Assessing the needs of clients with communication disorders and swallowing problems
- Developing treatment plans that are targeted towards the specific needs of each client
- Working closely with individuals who have communication disorders or swallowing problems to help them learn new skills or overcome their speech difficulties
- Teaching supportive strategies for people with communication disorders
- Organizing and giving presentations on various topics related to communicative health
- Performing administrative tasks in your area of work
- Helping people lead normal, productive lives through the use of speech
- Using your knowledge of communication disorders to influence policy decisions related to communicative health
3. How to Become a Speech Pathologist?
Generally, to become a speech pathologist, you will need to earn a master’s degree in Communicative Disorders or Speech Pathology. Earning the degree can take about three years of full-time study, including one year of supervised clinical experience. Most states also require that applicants be licensed before they are allowed to practice as a speech pathologist.
To gain admission into a graduate program, you will usually need to have earned a bachelor’s degree. Coursework in your undergraduate studies will include coursework in anatomy, physiology, linguistics, biology, and chemistry. Earning the degree can take about four years of full-time study, including one year of supervised clinical experience. Most states also require applicants to be licensed before they are allowed to practice as speech pathologists. Speech Pathology programs aim at providing training and education in pharmacy and clinical care that helps students develop skills and competencies related to:
Patient assessment, diagnosis, and Treatment of various communication disorders such as stuttering, voice disorders, apraxia of speech, Dysphagia (difficulties in swallowing), Treatment of cleft lip and palate disorders related to the larynx, voice box, lungs, esophagus, etc.
To become a speech pathologist, one must study for four years at an accredited college or university. The first two years focus on the basics of human communication, while the last two years are devoted to more intensive study. Scholarship in this field requires professional certification, which involves passing a state examination given by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Board of Examiners.
4. What Are the Experience Requirements for a Speech Pathologist?
After finishing college, those interested in learning more about the profession of speech pathology can participate in an internship. This is a training program that allows students to gain valuable hands-on experience under the supervision of a licensed professional. Students also complete several hours of community service, and they must take and pass examinations related to their coursework.
Spending time as a speech therapy assistant is also beneficial for those who want to become speech pathologists. As an assistant, you will gain first-hand experience working with clients suffering from communication or swallowing problems. You will learn about the various assessment tools used by professional therapists, and you’ll develop interpersonal skills that are useful in helping people overcome their disabilities.
5. What Skills Are Needed to Become a Speech Pathologist?
Some of the skills needed to become a speech pathologist include:
- Good listening skills- because the majority of the work involves listening to clients and assessing their needs
- Problem-solving skills-because you will need to develop treatment plans for individuals with communication disorders
- Patience-because working closely with people who have communication difficulties can be both frustrating and rewarding, depending on the day.
- Strong organizational skills-because you will need to keep good records of your patient’s progress and maintain accurate filing systems.
- Ability to work with people from all backgrounds and cultures-because speech pathologists treat patients from a variety of different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds.
6. What Is the Job Like?
As a speech pathologist, you will:
- Interview patients and assess their needs. You may administer tests such as the Boston or Mini-Mental State Examination to help determine patient disabilities and/or mental status.
- Develop treatment plans for individuals with communication disorders such as stuttering, voice disorders, apraxia of speech, Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), and disorders related to the larynx, voice box, lungs, esophagus, etc.
- Develop activity programs to help individuals improve their communication abilities, including teaching patients how to communicate more effectively in social situations.
- Develop custom-made oral prostheses for individuals with cleft lip or palate.
- Diagnose hearing defects and treat individuals with hearing problems.
- Develop activity programs to help individuals improve their ability to communicate effectively.
7. How Much Does a Speech Pathologist Earn?
Speech pathologists may earn from $35,000 to more than $80,000 a year. The median salary of Speech-Language Pathologists is reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as $64,690 in May 2011, which was an increase from around $57,460 in 2005. The highest 10 percent earned more than $91,660.
The salary for speech pathologists is dependent on location, years of experience, and type of employer.
8. How Long Does it Take to Become a Speech Pathologist?
Earning an undergraduate degree in speech pathology takes around four years.
Those interested in becoming a speech pathologist need to complete an internship or work as an assistant for at least two years after they receive their bachelor’s degree. Those with master’s degrees may become supervisors of groups of speech pathologists and/or audiologists, therapists who help individuals overcome hearing problems.
A master’s degree in speech pathology takes about two years. Speech pathologists with doctoral degrees are often employed as researchers or administrators at colleges or universities, or they may conduct their own research. Some also become university professors. A doctorate is generally required for careers as a researcher, administrator, professor, etc. If you are interested in becoming an academic speech pathologist, you must first earn a doctorate in communication sciences and disorders or audiology. A doctorate takes about four years.
9. What Are Some Related Careers?
Clinical psychologists (13-1021) assess and treat mental and emotional disorders of individuals through various counseling methods. They use psychotherapy, behavior modification, and other forms of treatment to help their patients overcome mental issues that are inhibiting their daily lives.
Social workers (19-1024) provide social services to people in need. By understanding the needs of the patient, they are able to help improve their quality of life through various treatments.
Other careers you might consider:
- Audiology technician (19-2051)- another career that focuses on helping people overcome communication issues; they fit and dispense hearing aids, modify hearing aids for individual needs, and educate patients about environmental sounds.
- Audiologist (19-1026)- an audiologist performs the same duties as an audiology technician but is a licensed professional.
- Speech-language pathologist assistant (19-2081)- works under a speech-language pathologist, helping to provide service to patients in need of therapy. This career requires an associate degree and certification by ASHA.
10. Where Does Speech Pathologist Work?
Speech-language pathologists work in a variety of settings. Speech-language pathologists may be employed by the following:
- Hospitals and other healthcare facilities
- Outpatient care centers
- Residential facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities
- Public and private schools at all levels from elementary to college. Some employment opportunities also exist in universities, research facilities, and government agencies.
11. What Is the Job Outlook for This Career?
The job outlook for speech-language pathologists is better than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment opportunities will likely increase by twenty percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average employment growth rate. This profession will continue to attract many people because of the large aging baby boomer population.
The BLS reports that the job outlook for speech-language pathologists will be better than average in outpatient care centers, and employment opportunities should increase by sixty percent in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. The job outlook is best working with children in elementary and high schools.
12. Best Colleges to Study Speech Pathology
The following list includes colleges and universities with accredited programs in speech pathology:
- Arcadia University- Glenside, PA
- California State University- Northridge
- East Carolina University- Greenville NC
- Kutztown University of Pennsylvania- Kutztown, PA
- Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine- Erie, PA
- Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center- New Orleans LA
- Michigan State University (College of Communication Arts & Sciences)- East Lansing, MI
The field of speech pathology is an interesting and challenging one. It requires a dedication to helping others, as well as a passion for learning about the latest research and techniques in the field. If you’re looking for a career that will allow you to make a difference in people’s lives, then speech pathology may be the perfect choice for you. We hope this article has given you some insight into what it takes to become a speech pathologist and what your career prospects could look like. Are you excited to explore this field further? Let us know in the comments.