a speech-language pathologist working with a student in the educational setting

What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?

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I’m Julia, a traveling speech pathologist that’s been all over the US working in the traveling healthcare industry. Today I’m going to answer one of the biggest questions I get, “What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?” 

Have you ever heard of a Speech-Language Pathologist, Speech Therapist, or SLP for short? 

To begin with, SLPs are masters in communication. We’re the ones who diagnose and treat communication and swallowing problems in people of all ages, from little kids in school to people living in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. 

How Do You Become an SLP?

Besides being asked what is a Speech-Language Pathologist, the second biggest question I get is, how you can become an SLP? How much schooling and training do you need? And what degree do you need to be a certified SLP?

As a speech-language pathologist, you’re going to need a master’s degree from an accredited program as well as classes in the assessment and treatment of communication and swallowing disorders. These programs will also include at least 375 hours of clinical experience and 25 hours of clinical observation. 

Then after you graduate, you’ll attend a 9-month clinical fellowship with a minimum of 1,260 hours of work under the supervision of another SLP. Finally, you’ll need to pass your final exam (the PRAXIS) to become a certified speech-language pathologist! 

Personally, it took me seven years to become a licensed speech-language pathologist.

Read Next | How to become a speech-language pathologist

What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) Do?

We have a lot of responsibilities and lots of ways that we help our patients. We always start with evaluating a person’s communication or swallowing abilities. We’ll then diagnose communication and swallowing impairments. We next develop a personal treatment plan. From there, we’re the ones providing therapy and of course, maintaining records to track progress. 

Each treatment that we offer is called ‘a therapy’. 

A speech-lanaguage pathologist working with a patient in the medical setting
SLP in the medical setting feeling (known as palpating)a swallow

Typical Speech-Language Pathologist Therapies 

Typical therapies that we do with our patients include: 

  • Helping to form sounds
  • Speaking clearly and easily 
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles that we use to speak or swallow
  • Increase the number of words you can say/understand
  • Helping people put together words and sentences
  • Strategies to improve the pragmatic and social communication aspects of communication
  • Educating patients and families to overcome communication or swallowing problems
  • Providing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems for people who have severe language disorders
  • Providing a type of treatment called aural rehabilitation, that helps improve the quality of life for people with hearing loss

What Conditions Do Speech-Language Pathologists Treat?

Speech therapists treat a wide variety of conditions. Who and what you treat will be dependent on where you choose to work as well, as some problems are more common in children, and others in adults.  These are some of the most common conditions that we treat. 

Speech sounds

This can be how we make sounds and put sounds together into words. Some common names for these problems are articulation or phonological disorders, apraxia of speech, or dysarthria.

Language

This is how well we understand what we’re hearing or reading. And how we use our words to tell other people what we’re thinking. In adults, this is a problem that we call Aspasia. 

Literacy

Common literacy problems revolve around reading and writing. People with speech and language disorders can also run into problems with spelling, writing, and reading. 

Social communication

You might not think of an SLP as someone who treats issues with following rules, taking turns, and talking/communicating with people. But we’re often treating people who have difficulty with social communication or pragmatics.

Voice

Here I mean quite simply how our voices sound. You may lose your voice easily, talk too loudly or talk through your nose, and that is all something an SLP can help with. We can also help transgender patients change the pitch and sound quality of their voice.

Fluency

This is more commonly known as stuttering. Stuttering is how well our speech flows. Stuttering often causes people to pause and use “um” or “uh” a lot when they’re talking. It also causes people to get stuck and repeat certain sounds, like t-t-table.  This is something that many children go through, but more outgrow. As SLPs we’re here to help anyone who struggles with fluency.

Cognitive communication

Cognitive communication is how well our minds work. This involves memory, attention, problem-solving, organization, and other skills. Issues with our cognitive communication could be caused by an injury to the brain, stroke, or dementia.  

Feeding and swallowing

Finally, as SLPs we’ll treat issues with feeding and swallowing. This is how well we chew and swallow food and liquid. Swallowing disorders can lead to poor nutrition, weight loss, aspiration of food and drink to the lungs, and ultimately death Difficulty feeding and swallow is referred to as dysphagia. 

There are many conditions and problems that people have that fall into one of these categories. But keep in mind this isn’t a comprehensive list. Speech therapists could list 100 different types of conditions and patients that we’ve treated. And like I said, it’s going to vary greatly depending on what setting you’re working in. 

What Happens During Speech Therapy?

Now that you know a bit more about what a speech-language pathologist is and what kind of people we treat and what therapies we perform, I want to actually talk about what typically happens during a therapy session with your SLP. 

Speech Therapy for Kids

When you’re working with kids, it’s usually in a classroom with a small group. Occasionally you’ll work one-on-one depending on the disorder, but this usually happens in a school/classroom setting. While this is going to vary depending on the child (their age and needs), a typical therapy with kids may include: 

  • Talking and playing with books, toys, and pictures as a part of the language
  • Activities to stimulate language development
  • Modeling correct sounds and syllables 
Engaging children in literacy and reading activities

Speech therapy for adults

Speech therapy for adults is going to look very different from working with children, mostly because with children you’re going to use a lot of play. For adults, you’ll begin with your assessment of their needs which usually involves practicing a few speech exercises designed specifically for adults. 

Speech therapy for adults can also include retraining the ‘swallowing function’ if an injury or medical condition has caused swallowing difficulties.  

Some therapies may involve:

  • Problem-solving, memory, and organization activities that are geared at improving cognitive-communication skills
  • Conversations to improve social communication skills
  • Breathing exercises
  • Exercises that help strengthen oral muscles

The Bottom Line

Speech-Language Pathology is continually ranked as one of the best fields to work in. I’ve worked as an SLP for years and found it to be rewarding in many ways – including travel! But is being a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) all that it is cracked up to be? Find out in one of my most popular posts, The Pros, and Cons of Being an SLP

And if you’re ready to get started working as a traveling speech-language pathologist click HERE. If you want to learn more about what a career in travel healthcare looks like, read this post next

Has this helped to answer your question about what a speech-language pathologist is? If you still have questions, comment below! 

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