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What Speech-Language Pathologists Do About this section

Speech-language pathologists
Speech-language pathologists must be able to listen to and communicate with clients in order to determine the right course of treatment.

Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess and treat people who have speech, language, voice, and fluency disorders. They also treat clients who have problems swallowing.

Duties

Speech-language pathologists typically do the following:

  • Evaluate levels of speech, language, or swallowing difficulty
  • Identify clients' goals for treatment
  • Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan that addresses specific functional needs
  • Teach clients how to make sounds, improve their voices, and maintain fluency
  • Help clients improve vocabulary and sentence structure
  • Work with clients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow
  • Counsel clients and their families on how to cope with communication and swallowing disorders

 

Speech-language pathologists work with clients who have speech and language problems, including related cognitive or social communication problems. Clients may have difficulty speaking, such as being unable to speak or speaking too loudly or softly. They also may have problems with rhythm and fluency, such as stuttering. Speech-language pathologists also work with clients who have problems understanding language.

Speech-language pathologists may select alternative communication systems and instruct clients in their use. They also must record their evaluations and assessments, track treatment progress, and note any changes in a client's condition or treatment plan.

Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or older adults. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems that result from developmental delays or from medical causes, such as a stroke or a cleft palate. Still others research topics related to speech and language issues.

Speech-language pathologists work with physicians and surgeonssocial workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, audiologists, and other healthcare workers. In schools, they evaluate students for speech and language disorders and work with teachers, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities. For more information on teachers, see the profiles on preschool teachers, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, and special education teachers.

Work Environment About this section

Speech-language pathologists
Most speech-language pathologists work in schools or healthcare facilities.

Speech-language pathologists held about 159,800 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of speech-language pathologists were as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private 40%
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 24
Hospitals; state, local, and private 14
Self-employed workers 6
Nursing and residential care facilities 4

Speech-language pathologists typically work as part of a team. Some travel between different schools or facilities.

Work Schedules

Most speech-language pathologists are full time, but part-time work is common. Those working for schools may have a 2-month break during the summer and a shorter midwinter break.

How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist About this section

Speech-language pathologists
Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children.

Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. All states require that speech-language pathologists be licensed. Requirements for licensure vary by state.

Education

Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master's degree in speech-language pathology. These programs usually take 2 years of postbaccalaureate study. Although master's degree programs may not require a particular bachelor's degree for admission, they frequently require applicants to have completed coursework in biology, social science, or certain healthcare and related fields. Requirements vary by program.

Graduate programs often include courses in speech and language development, age-specific speech disorders, alternative and augmentative communication, and swallowing disorders. These programs also include supervised clinical experience.

Graduation from an accredited program is required for certification and, often, for state licensure. The Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), accredits education programs in speech-language pathology.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require speech-language pathologists to be licensed. Licensure typically requires at least a master’s degree from an accredited program, supervised clinical experience gained both during and after completing the program, and passing an exam. For specific requirements, contact your state’s medical or health licensure board.

Speech-language pathologists may earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Certification typically satisfies some or all of the requirements for state licensure and may be required by some employers. To earn CCC-SLP certification, candidates must graduate from an accredited program, pass an exam, and complete a fellowship that lasts several months and is supervised by a certified speech-language pathologist. To maintain the CCC-SLP credential, speech-language pathologists must complete a specified number of hours of continuing education.

Speech-language pathologists who work in schools may need a teaching certification. For specific requirements, contact your state’s department of education or the school district or private institution in which you are interested.

Speech language pathologists may choose to earn specialty certifications in child language, fluency, or swallowing. Candidates who hold the CCC-SLP, meet work experience requirements, complete continuing education hours, and pass a specialty certification exam may use the title Board Certified Specialist. Three organizations offer specialty certifications: American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders, American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders, and American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders.

Some employers prefer to hire candidates with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS) certification.

Training

Candidates may gain hands-on experience through supervised clinical work, which is typically referred to as a fellowship. Prospective speech-language pathologists train under the supervision of a certified speech-language pathologist to refine their skills after the completion of the graduate degree.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Speech-language pathologists must select appropriate diagnostic tools and evaluate results to identify goals and develop a treatment plan.

Communication skills. Speech-language pathologists need to explain test results, diagnoses, and proposed treatments in a way that individuals and their families can understand. They also must be clear and concise in written reports.

Compassion. Speech-language pathologists may work with people who are frustrated by their communication difficulties. They must understand and be supportive of these clients and their families.

Critical-thinking skills. Speech-language pathologists must be deliberate in making assessments to create treatment plans tailored to individual needs.

Detail oriented. Speech-language pathologists must comprehensive notes on clients' progress to ensure that they continue receiving proper treatment.

Listening skills. Speech-language pathologists must pay attention to hear the clients' communication difficulties and determine a course of action.

Pay About this section

Speech-Language Pathologists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

$81,270

Speech-language pathologists

$79,060

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for speech-language pathologists was $79,060 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $125,560.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for speech-language pathologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing and residential care facilities $99,340
Hospitals; state, local, and private 95,620
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 93,510
Educational services; state, local, and private 75,270

Most speech-language pathologists are full time, but part-time work is common. Those working for schools may have a 2-month break during the summer and a shorter midwinter break.

Job Outlook About this section

Speech-Language Pathologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Speech-language pathologists

21%

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

9%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 14,000 openings for speech-language pathologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

As the large baby-boom population grows older, there will be more instances of health conditions such as strokes or dementia, which can cause speech or language impairments. Speech-language pathologists will be needed to treat the increased number of speech and language disorders in the older population.

Increased awareness of speech and language disorders, such as stuttering, in younger children should lead to a need for more speech-language pathologists who specialize in treating that age group. Also, an increasing number of speech-language pathologists will be needed to work with children with autism to improve their ability to communicate and socialize effectively.

In addition, medical advances are improving the survival rate of premature infants and victims of trauma and strokes, many of whom need help from speech-language pathologists.

Employment projections data for speech-language pathologists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Speech-language pathologists

29-1127 159,800 193,900 21 34,000 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about speech-language pathologists, a description of the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) credential, and a list of accredited graduate programs in speech-language pathology, visit

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

For more information about specialty certifications, visit

American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders

American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders

American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders

State licensing boards have information about licensure requirements. State departments of education can provide information about certification requirements for those who want to work in public schools.

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