Speech Therapist: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a speech therapist. Learn about job duties, education, salary and job growth to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Bilingual and Multicultural Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Speech Therapist?

Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists, work in schools or healthcare settings, aiding people who have communication, language, voice, or swallowing problems. As a speech therapist, you will be involved in every step of working with a patient to address these problems, from assessment to diagnosis to treatment. Anyone with a birth defect, hearing loss, injury, or developmental delay might need a speech therapist. You could choose to work with a particular age group or specialize in one condition.

The educational requirements for becoming a speech therapist are fairly rigorous, so you should be prepared to complete at least a master's degree before seeking out the necessary licensure. You should also enjoy working one-on-one with people, and have the patience to work with them on what could be a long-term basis.

The following chart provides an overview about a career as a speech therapist.

Degree Required Master's degree
Training Required Supervised clinical training
Education Field of Study Speech-language pathology
Licensure or Certification Almost all states require licensure; professional certification may be a prerequisite of licensure
Key Responsibilities Evaluate patient to determine extent of communication and swallowing problems; diagnose problems and develop treatment plan; work with patient to improve verbal communication or teach alternative methods of communication; teach exercises to strengthen speech and swallowing muscles
Job Growth (2014-2024) 21%*
Median Salary (2015) $73,410*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a Speech Therapist Do?

As a speech therapist, you'll be responsible for finding the root cause of a person's deficiencies and providing treatment to correct the issue. You may work with people who have stuttering problems, trouble understanding language or heavy accents, or you may work with people who have developmental disorders, learning disabilities, hearing loss or emotional problems. You'll often create an individualized plan of action for each patient you work with and keep detailed records of all your dealings with that patient. You'll also be in charge of providing counseling services for patients and their families to help them cope with the problems and strategize ways to work together until adequate improvements are made.

How Do I Enter this Field of Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master's degree is generally required to get a job in this field. Depending on your state, licensure or certification may also be required. Although licensure requirements vary, you'll typically have to complete several things. First, you'll need to obtain your degree. Upon finishing school, you'll then need to pass a speech-language pathology exam and receive 300-375 hours of supervised clinical experience. Finally, you'll need to spend nine months in professional clinical practice.

Graduating from an accredited school is not always necessary, but, according to the BLS, it's required to obtain licensure in some states and is needed to earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. This credential is voluntary, but its requirements often overlap with state licensure requirements. Besides graduating from an accredited university, to earn the CCC-SLP credential, you'll need to complete a postgraduate fellowship and pass an examination.

As a worker in this field, you'll also need to determine if you want to work in healthcare facilities or schools. The degree requirement is the same, but if you want to work for a school, there may be additional state regulations. For this reason, you'll need to contact your state's department of education to find out if you need to fulfill any additional requirements.

How Can I Increase My Chances of Success?

You'll work with clients one-on-one a lot in this field, so an ability to build effective rapport can be very helpful. Some other fundamental skills that will help you include good written and verbal communication, active listening, critical thinking, deductive reasoning and problem solving. In addition, you'll do better if you are patient, open, friendly and sincere when dealing with clients.

Gaining experience and showing continuous growth in your skill and ability to achieve positive results with your clients is vital to your advancement in this field. After gaining enough experience and expertise, you may become a mentor or supervisor. Through building a good professional reputation, you'll also have the opportunity to work independently with private clients that hire you personally, similar to private practice. In addition, your expertise may open doors for you as a consultant in the industry, or you may design new equipment or techniques for treating speech problems.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the BLS, employment of speech therapists is expected to grow much faster than average with a predicted increase of 21% between 2014 and 2024. Medical advances that help premature infants and stroke victims live longer, an aging of baby-boomer generation and a push for earlier identification of speech problems are several factors that may fuel this growth. To improve your employment opportunities, you may consider becoming fluent in a second language or relocating to an area where speech therapists are in short supply. Your salary will vary depending on where you're employed, but the BLS reported that the median annual wage was $73,410 in May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

An occupational therapist is another type of professional who works with patients to correct or improve skills needed for everyday living. A master's degree is required for this career, and occupational therapists could work with anyone with an injury, illness, or disability that requires assistance for any number of activities. Another career choice you could pursue is recreational therapy. A bachelor's degree is a typical minimum requirement for this field. Recreational therapists plan and lead activities such as arts and crafts or sports games to help treat or manage participants' disabilities, injuries, or illnesses.

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