written by: Stephanie Torreno•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 6/4/2012
A speech therapist diagnoses and treats children and adults with speech and communication difficulties due to congenital, developmental, or acquired disabilities. Keep reading to learn more about the responsibilities and requirements of this profession.
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A speech therapist, also called a speech-language pathologist, evaluates, diagnoses, and treats difficulties involving speech, language, voice, fluency, and swallowing. Speech therapists work with individuals who cannot produce sounds or do not produce them clearly, who have rhythm and fluency difficulties, or who have voice disorders. Individuals who have problems producing or understanding language, as well as those who want to modify an accent, can be helped by speech therapy. The difficulties speech therapists treat can be caused by neurological disorders, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, physical problems, voice pathology, hearing impairments, or emotional disorders.
Roles & Responsibilities
Speech therapists often work one-on-one with clients and develop individualized plans to treat each client. Using written and oral tests, and special instruments, therapists diagnose the cause and extent of speech impairments and analyze these impairments along with language and swallowing differences. Speech therapists teach clients with varying degrees of speech how to produce sounds, improve their voice quality, and use oral communication more effectively. For clients with little or no speech capabilities, such as those with autism or severe cerebral palsy, therapists select augmentative communication devices or alternative communication methods. These clients, for example, are taught how to use communication boards and other automated devices, or sign language. Speech therapists help improve skills or recover speech in schools, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities so that clients can pursue educational, vocational, and social goals.
How to Become a Speech Therapist
To become a speech therapist you will typically need a master’s degree. Students take speech-language pathology courses that cover anatomy, physiology, and the development of the body parts that produce and understand speech and language and that are involved in swallowing. Other courses cover the causes of disorders, principles of acoustics, and the psychological aspects of communication. Learning to assess and treat speech, language, and swallowing impairments may also be part of supervised clinical training for graduate students.
Some states require graduation from an academic program accredited by The Council on Academic Accreditation, an entity of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), for licensure. This association mandates graduation from an accredited program for professional credentialing. Speech therapists were regulated in 47 states in 2009. Requirements for licensing usually include a master’s degree from an accredited university; a passing score on the national speech-language pathology exam; 300 to 375 hours of supervised clinical practice; and 9 months of postgraduate professional clinical experience. In general, speech therapists have to meet continuing education requirements for licensure renewal in most states; Medicaid, Medicare, and private health insurance companies require a license to qualify for reimbursement.
For speech-language pathologists who work in schools, state regulation may vary. ASHA offers the voluntary Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), which does meet some or all of the licensure in some states. Requirements for a CCC-SLP include a graduate degree from an accredited university (which generally requires a 400-hour supervised clinical practicum), completion of a 36-week full-time postgraduate clinical fellowship, and a passing score on the Praxis Series examination in speech-language pathology.
This is a very rewarding profession, but requires a large commitment as well as plenty of patience and compassion for clients who may progress slowly. You should have excellent communication skills to effectively support and inform clients and families of test results, diagnoses, and treatments. Great good listening skills are also a must.