A speech language pathologist is someone who diagnoses and treats language and speech disorders. These professionals often work in hospitals and schools, but may also work in private practice as a consultant. In schools, their main focus is usually on providing help and support to children who require extra speech help outside of normal classes, while in hospitals, they help people who have medical conditions that cause communication impairment. One working as a private consultant may work with adults and children who have speech impairment for a wide variety of reasons, including psychological as well as physical factors.
In most cases, a speech language pathologist works one-on-one with his or her clients, rather than in groups of two or more people. The first visit or two with a new patient is usually spent assessing the type of language or speech disorder he or she is affected by. Next, the speech therapist will spend some time devising a treatment plan that will most effectively help the client improve his or her speech or language skills. Treatment might entail not only working on conventional speech and language skills, but also development of alternate communication methods, as some clients may have impaired speech or language to the point where they cannot communicate verbally.
The type and range of speech and language disorders that these professionals may encounter are highly variable. For example, they may diagnose and treat cognitive communication disorders such as voice disorders, aphasia, or delayed language, which may occur after a stroke or other brain injury, a neurological disorder such as Parkinson's or Huntington's Disease, or may be the result of a congenital abnormality. Speech language therapists working in schools often help children with learning difficulties, hearing impairment, or speech disorders such as stammering.
All states in the US require that a speech language pathologist hold a master’s or other graduate degree, but requirements may vary in other countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, candidates must complete a three to four year degree course, but don’t have to have a master’s degree. In both countries, and in several others, the speech therapist must also be licensed or registered with a national or state organization.
A successful career in speech therapy requires both practical and personal skills, including excellent verbal and written communication skills, and a well-developed ability to work with people one-on-one. Patience, tact, and compassion are important personal skills for these types of healthcare jobs. As with many other healthcare careers, it’s also important for the individual to be able to work with and teach people from different cultures and different social or economic backgrounds.