How to Become a Speech Therapist

If you are compassionate, pay attention to details and have a skill for speaking clearly and hearing differences in the speech of others, you may wonder how to become a speech therapist. Speech therapists are formally known as speech-language pathologists. These healthcare professionals diagnose and treat speech, language, voice, communication and swallowing disorders in patients from childhood to old age. While speech therapists often work in schools, they may also find employment in hospitals, nursing home facilities, audiology practices and rehabilitation facilities that offer physical and occupational therapy.

Speech therapists work with different kinds of patients. Some are young patients dealing with developmental delays, while others are elderly patients who have suffered hearing loss. Often, speech and language disorders result from conditions such as brain injuries and strokes, so speech therapists may treat patients of any age who are coping with these medical conditions. Speech therapists must speak to patients and listen to their attempts to communicate, through speech and alternative methods, to assess problems. They often use standardized tests or exercises in reading out loud to aid in their diagnoses. For each patient, a speech therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan that may include instruction in making speech sounds and improving reading and writing abilities. They may also teach sign language to patients who are not able to speak. Some patients work with have a stutter or speech impediment, while others may not speak at all. Speech language therapists work to help all of these patients communicate more effectively.

Becoming a speech therapist requires an advanced education. Aspiring speech therapists must begin preparing for their careers by earning a bachelor’s degree from a college or university. While many undergraduate education paths can be of use to speech therapists, majors such as Communication Sciences and Disorders or Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences are popular in schools that offer these specific courses of study.

After completing their undergraduate degree requirements and any pre-requisite coursework required by the desired graduate school, aspiring speech therapists must earn their master’s degree in a speech-language pathology program accredited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Council on Academic Accreditation. These programs will expose students to hands-on clinical experience as well as study in swallowing disorders, speech disorders that affect specific age groups and alternative methods of communication. Graduates of these programs must obtain licensure in the state in which they intend to work. To give themselves a competitive edge in the job market, speech therapists can earn the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology.

Speech therapists earn a median annual salary of $66,920, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The job outlook for this occupation is positive, with the BLS predicting a 23 percent increase in job opportunities between 2010 and 2020. If you speak and communicate clearly, listen carefully and patiently and have excellent critical-thinking skills, knowing how to become a speech therapist could be your first step toward a rewarding new career.

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