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What is a speech-language pathologist?

A speech-language pathologist evaluates and treats speech, language, and swallowing disorders in individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly.  Speech-language pathologists are certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). The ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) is the internationally recognized professional credential for speech-language pathologists. This certification assures the public, employers, and colleagues that the certificate holder has the knowledge, skills, and experience to independently provide high-quality clinical services in all settings.

Speech-language pathologists work with patients who have problems with speech. Also sometimes referred to as speech therapists, these health care professionals help people affected by impairements in speech, language, and swallowing which may have resulted from many causes, including trauma, stroke, hearing loss, developmental delay, birth abnormalities, and emotional problems.

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.

Important part of the health care team
Speech-language pathologists will evaluate the person's level of difficulty in communication, prepare a treatment plan, and help the patient follow through to see improvement in his or her condition.

These clinicians will also teach ways to improve vocal ability as well as alternative communication methods such as sign-language. They often work with patients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow. Counseling patients and their families is an important part of this role.

Speech-language pathologists work with physicians, social workers, psychologists, and other health care professionals. They also work with teachers, school staff and parents to support children with communication difficulties in schools.

A master’s degree is necessary to enter the workforce in this field. A current state license is also required to see patients and licensing requirements vary by state. The degree program will also include supervised clinical practice in addition to course work.

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.

A career in demand
Employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

As the population ages in increasing numbers, more speech-language pathologists will be needed to serve the community. In addition, children and infants continue to require more speech-language services as awareness of disorders such as stuttering increases and advances in medicine lead to a need for more professionals who specialize in treating these age groups.

Source: the Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor.

Last modified: Sep 12, 2018

Occupational Outlook Handbook thumbnail image

Learn more about this career, including income and employment projections at the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook.