What is a speech pathologist?

If you or a loved one is having trouble communicating, you may benefit from the skilled services of a speech-language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist, also known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or speech therapist, is a healthcare professional who helps people improve their language and communication skills when they are sick, injured, or have a chronic disability.

Speech pathologists also work with people who have difficulty swallowing food or drinks to improve safety while eating.

This article explores the important work that speech pathologists do as part of a professional rehabilitation team. You will learn about the conditions they treat and when you should seek the services of an SLP.

what a speech pathologist does

Speech pathologists are trained medical professionals who work with patients who are injured or ill and have difficulty speaking or swallowing. They work to prevent, assess and treat language, swallowing and communication disorders in adults and children. These diseases can be caused by injury or chronic disability.

Speech pathologists help people communicate, which may involve:

  • Expressive Communication: The ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally
  • Receptive Communication: the ability to understand verbal and nonverbal communication

So if you’re having trouble forming words, your speech therapist may be able to help. If you have trouble understanding speech or speech, SLP may offer treatment.

Some speech therapists work closely with audiologists (health care professionals who treat hearing and balance problems) to make sure you can hear and understand language correctly. Others work with otolaryngologists (also known as ear, nose and throat physicians (ENTs)) to help patients swallow food and drink safely and to assist patients with oral motor function.

where they work

Speech pathologists have a variety of work environments. This may include:

  • School
  • nursing home
  • Hospital
  • private practice

Speech pathologists may also work as educators in colleges and universities, and they may be involved in research.

READ ALSO:  Why Health Insurance Companies Deny Coverage for Healthcare Provider-Recommended Care

What SLP handles

Speech pathologists work with people of different ages and conditions. They sometimes work with young children who have speech problems, or they can help older adults with cognitive communication (communication influenced by memory, attention, organization, and problem solving, which are all examples of executive functioning).


Disorders that speech-language pathologists may treat include:

  • Stuttering or stuttering
  • Difficulty speaking after a stroke or other nerve injury
  • Difficulty understanding language after injury
  • Difficulty swallowing food or drinks
  • Pronunciation (correct formation of words and sounds)
  • Cognitive communication problems may occur with cognitive decline in dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improved Speech and Voice Technology for Transgender People

If you’re learning a new language and want to change your accent, you can also benefit from the services of a speech-language pathologist. They help you form words and pronunciation correctly to change your normal speech when learning a new language.

Why your autistic child will benefit from a speech therapist

education and training

If you need the services of a speech-language pathologist, you can be sure that they are trained and competent healthcare professionals. To become a speech pathologist, one must have a master’s degree in communication disorders. The first year they work is called the Clinical Fellowship Year. During this time, they will work under the supervision of a licensed speech pathologist.

Speech pathologists must also pass a state exam in order to be licensed to practice.

Their speech pathologist education doesn’t end when they leave school and pass state exams. They must also meet the continuing education requirements of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to maintain their licensure.

When to see a speech pathologist

In some cases, you may need to see a speech-language pathologist. For example, it is common for parents to notice that their child has mild language impairment and seek SLP. These damages may include:

  • unable to speak
  • Inability to form correct pronunciations for letters and words
  • Stutter
  • Difficulty reading and understanding age-appropriate books
READ ALSO:  Your rights to medical records under HIPAA

Adults may wish to work with a speech pathologist, including the following:

  • Stutter
  • Difficulty swallowing food or drinks
  • Slurred, inaccurate, or difficult speech due to facial muscle weakness (which can occur in various conditions such as myasthenia gravis, Bell’s palsy, and botulism)
  • difficulty producing or processing language, a condition called aphasia
  • Acquired apraxia, or difficulty pronouncing correctly, inconsistent speech, or groping for words due to brain damage

Types of Speech Therapy

If you are hospitalized, you may have a speech pathologist come to your room and work with you at your bedside. They can help you with speech and language, swallowing and eating problems, and can work with the rest of the recovery team to make sure you can go home safely and properly.

When to see a medical professional

If you start to have any trouble speaking or understanding language, or if you have trouble swallowing, make sure you seek medical attention right away. They can assess your condition and refer you to a speech-language pathologist if necessary.

If these symptoms appear suddenly and severely, call 911.

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

To become a speech pathologist, after earning a four-year degree, you must enroll in a graduate program and earn a master’s degree in speech therapy or communication disorders. The college must be accredited by the Commission on Academic Accreditation (CAA) in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology.

The steps to becoming a speech pathologist include:

  • Earn an undergraduate degree in a health field, such as biology or communication disorders.
  • Graduated from a CAA-accredited Communication Disorders program.
  • Completion of the Graduate Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY). This enables you to earn the SLP (CCC-SLP) Certificate of Clinical Competence.
  • Pass the National Practice Exam in Speech-Language Pathology.
  • Apply for an SLP license in the state where you will work.

Many undergraduate and graduate programs in speech-language pathology require you to spend some time observing a speech-language therapist at work before enrolling. With this, you will meet the entry requirements and you will have a good understanding of what a speech-language pathologist does.


If you or a loved one is having trouble communicating or understanding language, it may be a good idea to work with a speech-language pathologist. SLP treats children and adults with a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, nerve damage, autism, and more. They are trained to assess your condition and provide strategies to improve your expressive and receptive communication and swallowing function.

VigorTip words

Having trouble speaking, language, pronunciation or swallowing can affect every aspect of your life, from work to school to relationships. It’s frustrating to feel like you can’t communicate the way you need to. If you or a loved one is going through this, you may benefit from a speech-language pathologist.

Talk to your healthcare provider to see if SLP is right for you. Depending on your situation, they may recommend seeing a physical therapist or occupational therapist in addition or instead of you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should your college major be to become a speech pathologist?

    Speech pathologists typically major in the health field and then pursue a master’s program in communication, communication disorders, or speech therapy.

  • What is the salary of a speech pathologist?

    The average annual salary for speech pathologists is about $86,000.

  • Who should become a speech pathologist?

    If you enjoy working closely with people of all ages, enjoy the healthcare industry, and enjoy psychology and communications, you might want to consider SLP as a career.

  • Who Shouldn’t Be a Speech Pathologist?

    If you’re an introvert, or don’t want to be involved in a procedure that requires visualization of the inside of your throat or swallowing mechanisms, speech pathology may not be for you.