Speech-language pathologist: The essential career guide
Have you ever wondered what causes someone to stutter or why some people have trouble speaking after suffering a stroke—and wanted to help? If so, you might excel at a career in speech-language pathology. Speech-language pathology is a rewarding career that involves helping others overcome barriers to communication. It's a dynamic and ever-changing field that allows you to work with clients of all ages and in many different environments.
Find effective ways to communicate with others and help others communicate with the world around them. Central Michigan University offers a well-rounded speech language pathology program.
What is speech-language pathology?
In the simplest terms, speech-language pathology is therapy for speech, but it is more nuanced and covers more than that There are many reasons why someone may need the services of a speech-language pathologist, or SLP. As a specialist in this field, you would be in a position to help people improve the way they speak, eat, process what they hear and more. Speech-language pathologists provide help and training in several areas, including:
SLPs are often instrumental in helping improve the way people speak. This may mean helping with articulation and pronunciation. People who struggle with disorders such as dysarthria, aphasia, or apraxia of speech often benefit from the services offered by speech-language pathologists. Dysarthria often results when an injury occurs to the brain, such as when someone suffers a stroke. The muscles that are used in speaking are weakened. This includes muscles in the mouth, throat, tongue, and lips.
Apraxia, conversely, affects the way information travels from the brain to the muscles required for speech. It's a type of cognitive disconnect that makes it difficult to form the right words. Lastly, aphasia affects how the brain receives and processes information. People who struggle with aphasia may have difficulty understanding what others are saying, or they may struggle to form words to reply.
A speech-language pathologist has the tools needed to help people overcome these types of problems with speech and cognitive processing.
Often, people who have issues such as aphasia, apraxia, or dysarthria also struggle to read and write. There may be other reasons why someone might struggle with literacy. But if the root cause of the problem is related to communication, then a speech-language pathologist is the healthcare professional who can provide the right type of assistance.
Sometimes children or adults have difficulty moderating their voices or understanding when and why to moderate them. This is a problem that can lead to social anxiety, isolation, bullying, and depression. A speech-language pathologist can work with someone to help them learn how to raise and lower their voice and when it's appropriate to do so.
Someone who stutters has a problem with fluency. They know what they want to say, but they can't say it fluently. This may stem from genetics, injury, trauma, or emotional distress. Often, it's caused by a problem with speech-motor control, meaning something in timing or sensory coordination is off.
A speech-language pathologist can help people who stutter learn to speak more fluently and without unnecessary pauses or the addition of extra words such as "um" or "uh."
Many factors may contribute to swallowing disorders. These include certain chronic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's Disease. It may also happen to someone who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments or someone who has suffered a brain injury. Sometimes, normal aging and conditions such as GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) may make swallowing difficult.
As an SLP, you'll be in a unique position to help patients relearn how to swallow properly or to improve the way they swallow.
What do speech-language pathologists do?
Speech-language pathologists work one-on-one with people who have these types of communication issues. This may include working with older adults, with school children or with people of any age who have suffered injuries leading to communication disorders. As a speech-language pathologist, you may perform various duties, including:
- Assessing the level of a client's communication disorder
- Setting goals for treatment
- Developing and carrying out treatment plans
- Counseling clients and families
You may work as part of a healthcare team that includes doctors, surgeons, physical therapists and social workers. Or you might work within the educational system as part of a team comprised of teachers, guidance counselors and mental health professionals. You may communicate regularly with other professionals and with the client's family, regarding progress and activities they can do at home to supplement therapy.
Where do speech-language pathologists work?
Speech-language pathologists often work in hospital or recuperative settings, assisting clients who've suffered medical events or trauma to the brain. Or, they may work in the private or public school sector, assisting children with speech and communication issues. However, these are not the only two industries that hire SLPs. If you choose to pursue a master's degree and state licensure as a speech-language pathologist, you may find yourself working in a variety of settings, including:
- Nursing homes
- Rehabilitation centers
- Residential care facilities
- Early intervention offices
- Colleges and universities
- Corporate industry
- Armed forces
- Private practice
The career outlook for speech-language pathologists is very promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this industry is expected to experience much faster-than-average job growth through 2031. Therefore, if you have the right skills and education to pursue a position as an SLP, jobs may be plentiful. Roughly 14,000 new jobs are expected to open up annually over the next decade, in keeping pace with an aging population. Additionally, the speech-language pathology salary can be lucrative, too, with experienced professionals making over $99,000 a year.
How to become a speech-language pathologist
There are several steps involved in becoming a speech-language pathologist. You must pursue an advanced degree, take and pass the required exams, obtain your licensure and certifications and then continue to take educational training throughout your career to remain at the forefront of treatment modalities. For example, your path to becoming an SLP may look something like this:
Earn a bachelor's degree
Initially, you must pursue your undergraduate degree in a field such as Communication Sciences and Disorders . This will introduce you to the field of speech-language pathology and may include coursework such as:
- Language Development.
- Introduction to Speech Sound Disorders.
- Anatomy and Physiology of Speech and Hearing.
After earning your bachelor's degree, you'll go on to earn a master's degree in speech-language pathology.
Earn an advanced degree
A master's degree usually requires an additional two years of education beyond a bachelor's degree. This prepares you to specialize in the industry. Required coursework for a master's degree in speech-language pathology may include:
- Counseling Issues in Communication Disorders.
- Motor Speech Disorders.
- Aphasia and Right Hemisphere Disorders.
With a degree from a graduate program in speech-language pathology, you'll be prepared to succeed as an SLP.
Take the required exams
To obtain the required state licensure as an SLP, you must take and pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology. This is a requirement set by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). To pass, you must usually score at least 162 on a scale of 200, although each individual state sets its own standards for passing scores. You'll be eligible to sit for the Praxis exam once you've earned a master's degree and completed the required clinical practicum. Once you've applied, you have two years to take the exam.
Obtain certification or licensure
Upon successful completion of the Praxis exam, you will have five years to apply for certification in the state in which you plan to practice.
Stay on top of continuing education requirements
Once you've become certified and licensed to practice, you must complete 30 hours of continuing education credits every three years and submit proof to ASHA. This allows you to remain in compliance with the requirements of remaining an SLP.
If you're interested in pursuing a career as a speech-language pathologist, we invite you to consider the Speech-Language Pathology master's program or the Doctor of Audiology degree at Central Michigan University. Contact us today to learn more.