The field of speech-language pathology is certainly not new, but most individuals have limited insight into what the career entails.
Definition: Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are licensed and often certified clinicians who are trained to assess, identify, diagnose, and treat a range of cognitive, communicative, and swallowing disorders across the lifespan. They are also tasked with educating other professionals, family members, or caregivers on the impact of diagnoses and how to support the individual who is obtaining treatment.
Clinical Work: Cognitive, communication, and swallowing disorders can impact anyone at any age. You may meet an SLP in a hospital setting working with a new mother and her baby who is having difficulty with breastfeeding. Perhaps your father recently had a stroke and is having lingering challenges with stating the right words for objects around the house; he may be referred to an outpatient clinic to work with an SLP on improving retrieval of words and other strategies for successful communication. Maybe you have a teenager who is returning to school after sustaining a concussion in a sports tournament. She may have sessions with a school-based or private practice SLP who is helping her monitor her symptoms and put in place aids that can help her gradually resume participation in class and assignments.
Education: SLPs can have varied academic backgrounds. Some may have an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree specific to speech-language pathology. Others may have majored in other areas, like linguistics, psychology, or education. Depending on your undergraduate degree, prerequisites may be required before entering a graduate (master’s) level program in speech-language pathology. In a graduate degree program, you become a student clinician. You take course work on cognitive, communication, and swallowing disorders while also completing supervised treatment of students or patients. Most students may spend a minimum of six years between undergraduate and graduate school before being able to apply for licensure and certification as a speech-language pathologist. Some students may choose clinical practice, whereas others may have an interest in research - the latter of which oftentimes require additional coursework (PhD).
Skill Set: In addition to your academic and clinical background, SLPs generally have some common values and characteristics which attract them to the work in this field.
Want to know more about becoming a speech-language pathologist? Check out the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website on communication and sciences disorders to see if a career as an SLP may be in your future.
Devon Brunson, MS, CCC-SLP
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