How to Become a Speech Therapist in 5 Steps
Explore the career requirements for speech therapists. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you.
What Is a Speech Therapist?
Speech therapists diagnose and offer treatment to individuals who have various language, speaking and swallowing disorders. For instance, you might work with people who have problems forming clear speech or those who stutter. These professionals begin the treatment process by assessing a patient's abilities, discuss treatment options with the patient and then develop an individualized plan. Speech therapists not only work with patients, but advise the patient's family on dealing with the patient's condition. Some of these therapists may focus on a particular group of people, like children, or on a particular disorder or problem, such as patients recovering from a stroke. The following chart provides an overview about a career as a speech therapist.
|Degree Required||Master's degree|
|Education Field of Study||Speech pathology, communication sciences|
|Key Skills||Evaluate, diagnose and treat speech and swallowing disorders; provide therapy including vocalization exercises and muscle development exercises; teach alternative communication methods such as sign language to non-verbal patients|
|Licensure/Certification||Almost all states require licensure; professional certification is available from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||27%*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$77,510*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Step 1: Research Speech Therapist Career Duties and Required Education
Speech therapists work with all ages, in locales ranging from schools and hospitals to private practices and clinics. After diagnosing a patient's disorder, a speech therapist develops an individualized program of speech exercises for that patient, and then monitors and evaluates his or her progress. They offer techniques for improving a patient's voice pitch and language fluency.
Speech therapists also counsel patients and their families. They often work together with other professionals including social workers, physicians, teachers and psychologists. The majority of states require that speech therapists possess at least a master's degree in from an accredited speech-language pathology graduate program.
Step 2: Begin Preparing at the High School Level
Excelling in high school can make you a stronger candidate for admission to a bachelor's degree program in communications sciences and disorders. Maintain a high grade-point average and study subjects such as physics, mathematics and biology. Outside of school, seek opportunities to volunteer with people who have speech, language or voice disorders.
Step 3: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders
The path followed by most aspiring speech therapists begins with a bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders from a 4-year institution. As a student in one of these programs, you will learn about language development and function and fulfill your initial clinical experience requirements. Your coursework might include subjects such as foreign languages, science and technology, audiology and phonetics.
Step 4: Pursue a Graduate Degree in Speech-Language Pathology
If you plan to seek the national Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, choose a graduate program that is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. These programs teach you to evaluate and treat speech, language and voice disorders while you take part in additional clinical training. Your curriculum might offer courses such as speech and hearing science, neuroscience, fluency disorders and hearing disorders. You may also complete a thesis.
Step 5: Become a Certified Speech Therapist
After earning a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, candidates for state-level certification also must complete hundreds of hours of supervised clinical experience and pass a national examination administered by the Educational Testing Service. If you plan to work as a speech therapist in a public school, you also may need to earn your state teaching certification. Speech therapists must often continue their education to retain their certifications.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
One related career option is recreational therapy. Recreational therapists need at least a bachelor's degree. They work with injured, ill or disabled patients to improve physical and emotional health through recreational activities. They plan and coordinate activities like dance, aquatics, arts and crafts and sports. Occupational therapy is another option that requires a master's degree. These therapists work with patients that cannot perform everyday tasks due to illness, injury or disability. Occupational therapists help patients recover the necessary skills to live independently and work.