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What is a Speech Therapist?

Mary McMahon
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

A speech therapist or speech-language pathologist is someone who works with people who have difficulty speaking or swallowing. These health care professionals deal with a wide range of speech defects and disorders, from teaching someone with a cleft palate to speak after corrective surgery to helping people who suffer from stuttering disorders. Some work as private consultants, while others are associated with hospitals or health care groups. In general, employment outlooks in this field are quite good, and it is possible to find a reasonably well-paying position as a speech therapist in many regions of the world.

Licensure requirements for speech therapists vary, depending on regional laws. Typically, he or she must receive a graduate degree in the field, along with specialized training in working with patients. He or she may also be required to pass an exam which tests knowledge of speech pathology. Since regional requirements are so varied, if you are interested in pursuing a career in speech therapy, you may want to talk to a local professional about requirements in your area of the world.

Patients may seek out a speech therapist to treat a condition like stuttering or lisping. Clients may also be referred by doctors, especially if an underlying medical condition has caused a speech disorder. For example, a doctor might refer a patient to the therapist in the course of treatment for a neurological problem like a stroke which has caused slurred speech.

When a speech therapist first meets a patient, he or she usually gets to the underlying cause of the problem first. When a patient has been referred, the therapist can consult the patient's primary care doctor, but when a patient comes without a referral, identifying the cause is very important and sometimes challenging. In some cases, a patient may seek therapist out and the therapist may identify an underlying problem which requires medical treatment. Once the cause of the problem has been identified, he or she can develop a program which is tailored to the individual patient.

Typically, patients must engage in an assortment of exercises which are designed to break previous speech patterns and establish new ones. Many speech therapists also use audiovisual tools to help their patients, and patients are frequently assigned homework. In some cases, corrective devices may be used to help patients speak properly; in other instances, a speech therapist may work with a psychologist, neurologist, or another professional to treat the underlying cause of the problem while providing speech therapy to the patients.

Patients can have trouble with articulation, speech rhythms, tone, and pitch for a variety of reasons. Working with a speech therapist can help a patient speak more clearly, even if perfect speech isn't possible, and it can also even out someone's voice to make it easier to listen to and understand. Going to speech therapy can make a dramatic change in someone's life by making them able to smoothly and competently communicate. Some specialize in treatment for very specific issues; for example, many transsexuals go to a therapist to learn how to speak like a woman or man.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sneakers41 — On Oct 09, 2010

Comfyshoes-I think that a speech therapist career is a rewarding one because you get to help people fix their speech problems that usually become a source of embarrassment the older they get.

Children as they get older if they don’t correct a lisp for example, they will get picked on by other children and will become more self-conscious and it will eventually will erode their self-esteem. So speech therapy should not be delayed.

By comfyshoes — On Oct 09, 2010

BrickBack-I know that speech therapist jobs are in demand as they are considered a critical shortage area by most school systems.

The speech therapist can work in a school setting, a hospital or in private practice. Those working in a school setting tend to earn the salary step of a Masters Degree teacher. The speech therapist salary varies depending on the district.

Those that work in a hospital tend to earn more, but also work regular business hours. The speech therapist working in private practice can earn a six figure salary. For example, my daughter went to a speech therapist for a few months that charged $75 for a half and hour and this expense is not covered by insurance.

She usually went twice a week so that was a whopping $600 a month for 4 hours worth of therapy.

By cupcake15 — On Oct 09, 2010

BrickBack- A pediatric speech therapist can develop exercises for home use to reinforce the correct speech pattern.

Usually a child speech therapist will work on one sound at a time, and will not move on until the child has completely mastered the sound. It is not uncommon for a pediatric speech therapist to spend two to three months on the letter S, which is difficult to master.

Most children are expected to have mastered this sound by the age of nine. If considering having your child evaluated, you should seek an appointment with a private speech therapist.

Most schools systems and hospitals also offer speech therapists programs but the wait list is very long and it is not uncommon to have to wait six months just for a simple evaluation.

By BrickBack — On Oct 09, 2010

Anon71027- Sometimes it is difficult to mention all of the possible topics associated with speech therapy. You seem to have great knowledge of the subject.

Speech therapy is therapy that is offer to children and adults that need to correct their speech or restore it.

Often speech therapy if offered once it is determined what the problematic speech patterns the patient has problems saying. For example, children usually have difficulty with the letter S.

A child that speaks with a lisp is mispronouncing the letter S. this can be corrected through various speech exercises as well as training the child's the proper tongue placement in order to produce the correct sound.

With the letter S, the child should grit his teeth and have his or her jaw totally clenched. Children that speak with a lisp and have difficulty with this sound often stick their tongue slightly out when pronouncing the letter S.

Teaching a child's the proper tongue placement with the use of the mirror, as well as repeating words that begin or end with the letter will provide the practice necessary to overcome the speech problem.

By anon71027 — On Mar 17, 2010

There is no mention of speech restoration after laryngectomy.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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