Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, or emotional problems.
When diagnosing patients, speech-language pathologists typically do the following:
- Communicate with patients to evaluate their levels of speech or language difficulty
- Determine the extent of communication problems by having a patient complete basic reading and vocalizing tasks or by giving standardized tests
- Identify treatment options
- Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan
When treating patients, speech-language pathologists typically do the following:
- Teach patients how to make sounds and improve their voices
- Teach alternative communication methods, such as sign language, to patients with little or no speech capability
- Work with patients to improve their ability to read and write correctly
- Work with patients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow
- Counsel patients and families on how to cope with communication disorders
Speech-language pathologists work with patients who have problems with speech. Their patients may be unable to speak at all or they may speak with difficulty or have rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering. They may work with those who are unable to understand language or with people who have voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or a harsh voice.
Speech-language pathologists must also complete administrative tasks, including keeping accurate records. They record their initial patient evaluations and diagnoses, treatment progress, any changes in a patient’s condition or treatment plan, and, eventually, they complete a final evaluation when the patient finishes the therapy.
Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or the elderly. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems, such as those resulting from strokes or cleft palate.
In medical facilities, speech-language pathologists work with physicians and surgeons, social workers, psychologists, and other healthcare workers. In schools, they work with teachers, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities. For more information on teachers, see the profiles on preschool teachers, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, and special education teachers.
Speech-language pathologists held about 134,100 jobs in 2012. Almost half of all speech-language pathologists work in schools. Most others work in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals. Some work in patients’ homes.
The industries that employed the most speech-language pathologists in 2012 were as follows:
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||41%|
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||17|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||13|
|Nursing and residential care facilities||5|
Most speech-language pathologists work full time. About 1 out of 4 worked part time in 2012. Those who work on a contract basis may spend a lot of time traveling between facilities.
Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. They must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.
The standard level of education for speech-language pathologists is a master’s degree. Although master’s programs do not specify a particular undergraduate degree for admission, certain courses must be taken before entering the program. Required courses vary by institution. Graduate programs often include courses in age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, and swallowing disorders. These programs also include supervised clinical practice in addition to coursework.
The Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, accredits education programs in speech-language pathology. In 2012, the CAA accredited 253 master’s degree programs in speech-language pathology.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Speech-language pathologists must be licensed in almost all states. A license requires at least a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience. Some states require graduation from an accredited master’s program to get a license. For specific requirements, contact your state’s medical or health licensure board.
Speech-language pathologists can earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Certification satisfies some or all of the requirements for licensure and may be required by some employers.
Communication skills. Speech-language pathologists need to communicate test results, diagnoses, and proposed treatments in a way that patients and their families can understand.
Compassion. Speech-language pathologists work with people who are often frustrated by their difficulties. Speech-language pathologists must be able to support emotionally demanding patients and their families.
Critical-thinking skills. Speech-language pathologists must be able to adjust their treatment plans as needed, finding alternative ways to help their patients.
Detail oriented. The work of speech-language pathologists requires intense concentration because they must closely listen to what patients are able to say and then help them improve their speech.
Listening skills. Speech-language pathologists must listen to a patient’s symptoms and problems to decide on a course of treatment.
Patience. Speech-language pathologists may work with people who achieve goals slowly and need close attention.
The median annual wage for speech-language pathologists was $69,870 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,380, and the top 10 percent more than $107,650.
Most speech-language pathologists work full time. Those who work on a contract basis may spend considerable time traveling between facilities to treat patients.
Compared with workers in all occupations, speech-language pathologists had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.
Employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.
As the large baby-boom population grows older, there will be more instances of health conditions that cause speech or language impairments, such as strokes and hearing loss. More speech-language pathologists will be needed to treat the increased number of speech and language disorders in the older population.
Increased awareness of speech and language disorders, such as stuttering, in younger children should also lead to a need for more speech-language pathologists who specialize in treating that age group.
In addition, medical advances are improving the survival rate of premature infants and victims of trauma and strokes, many of whom need help from speech-language pathologists.
For more information about speech-language pathologists, a description of the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) credential, and a listing of accredited graduate programs in speech-language pathology, visit
State licensing boards have information about licensure requirements. State departments of education can provide information about certification requirements for those who want to work in public schools.