What Does a Speech Therapist Do?

February 24, 2015

You can help out at a local orphanage in your free time Most of us take the ability to speak and understand spoken language for granted. But some medical conditions can interfere with a person’s ability to communicate. A speech therapist diagnoses and treats people who have various types of language and speech disorders.

In some instances, a child may have a developmental delay or other condition, which affects speech, hearing and language development. In other cases, a condition or injury, such as a traumatic brain injury, stroke or an emotional problem, can lead to communication deficits.

Responsibilities of a Speech Therapist

Speech therapists are members of the allied healthcare team. They work closely with doctors, nurses, and other therapists to diagnose problems and develop a treatment plan.

Speech therapists may perform various tests to determine the person’s deficits or language limitations. For example, they may perform swallow evaluations on a stroke or brain injured patient to make sure they won’t choke on food or liquids. Therapists may also administer various standardized tests to identify neurological problems, which may be interfering with speech or language.

After they have made a diagnosis, speech therapists develop an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment may include teaching patients exercises to strengthen swallowing muscles and helping patients improve sounds and pronunciation of letters and words. In some instances, speech therapists teach patients how to use alternative methods of communication, such as sigh language.

Education Needed to Become a Speech Therapist 

Speech therapists usually need a master’s degree in speech-language pathology to work in the field. If you are interested in becoming a speech therapist, the first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Majoring in speech pathology or communication disorders is your best bet. After earning a four-year degree, a master’s program in speech-language pathology must be completed.

Graduate level classes completed will often include pharmacology, speech disorders and anatomy. Supervised clinical experience working with patients will also be required. Students work with both children and adults. Rotations through different settings, such as schools and hospitals, may be part of a master’s degree program.

After completing all the requirements, therapists are eligible to become licensed as speech-language pathologists. Almost all states in the United States require a therapist to be licensed in order to practice. 

For those interested in pursuing the profession, it is helpful to consider your skills and personality traits. Speech therapists should be patient and have compassion. The inability to communicate effectively can be frustrating and difficult to deal with. Therapists must be able to provide support and encouragement. It is also essential to have excellent communication and listening skills.  Not every therapy will work for every patient, so it is helpful to be creative and think outside the box. 

Opportunities and Salary

Speech therapists work in a variety of settings including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, clinics and schools. Some therapists also specialize and work with certain populations, such as children or those with hearing impairments. Salaries for speech therapists will depend on experience. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for speech therapists in 2012 was just over $69,000 a year.