What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

Industry Advice Healthcare

If you are looking for a career that will enable you to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of others, becoming a speech-language pathologist could be an excellent choice for you. Not only do SLPs help their clients and patients lead more fulfilling lives, but they also earn a substantial salary for their efforts.

To become a speech-language pathologist, you will ultimately need to earn a relevant degree, such as a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. Of course, earning an advanced degree will take an investment of time, effort, and money, so it’s only natural to research the field before making such a commitment. 

With this in mind, below, we explore common questions about becoming an SLP, including what a speech-language pathologist is, what they do, where they work, and more. 

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What is a speech-language pathologist?

A speech-language pathologist (often abbreviated to SLP) is a professional trained to be an expert in all aspects of speech and communication. As such, SLPs provide a range of services to their patients and clients. The most well-known of these services revolve around speech (speech sounds, language, literacy, fluency). SLPs also provide a number of services focused on social communication, cognition, and issues related to feeding and swallowing.

Speech-Language Pathologist vs. Speech Therapist

Ultimately, the terms speech-language pathologist, speech pathologist, speech therapist, speech teacher, and speech correctionist can all be used interchangeably to refer to a practicing SLP. However, the terms speech-language pathologist and speech pathologist are most commonly used in professional settings, while the others are more often used informally. 

What do speech-language pathologists do?

Speech-language pathologists perform a range of roles and duties depending on where they are employed and the specific patient populations that they work with. For example, those working in a hospital setting will perform different activities and treatments than those who work in a school or private practice. 

“It really depends on the setting that a speech-language pathologist is working in,” says Lorraine Book, department chair and associate clinical professor of Northeastern’s MS in Speech-Language Pathology program. “That being said, their primary role revolves around the assessment and treatment of speech-language disorders and swallowing disorders.”

SLPs dedicate the majority of their time to:

  • Evaluating patients
  • Diagnosing disorders, such as speech, communication, language, or swallowing disorders
  • Creating individualized treatment plans for their patients
  • Implementing treatments and interventions
  • Training family members or caregivers to oversee treatment in everyday life
  • Collaborating with other medical professionals as needed
  • And more

While speech-language pathologists are perhaps most well-known for working with children in a school setting, they can—and often do—work with patients of all ages. 

“As an allied health profession, SLPs are trained to treat across the lifespan, which means birth to death,” Book says. 

Conditions Addressed by Speech-Language Pathologists

Because the role of SLP can be so broad, the easiest way to understand it is to explore the specific types of conditions and “problems” that SLPs treat. These include:

  • Speech disorders: This category includes any disorder or condition which causes an individual to have difficulty producing sounds. Stuttering, dysarthria, and ataxia of speech can all be considered speech disorders.
  • Language disorders: These include any condition which causes an individual difficulty communicating with others. Language disorders include receptive as well as expressive language and can involve spoken or written language. Phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics are all involved. 
  • Social communication disorders: Individuals with these conditions have difficulty understanding and adhering to the “rules” of social communication, such as taking turns during a conversation or not interrupting others while they are speaking. Those on the autism spectrum or who have experienced traumatic brain injury commonly exhibit issues around social communication.
  • Cognitive-communication disorders: These disorders cause individuals to have difficulty remembering, organizing their thoughts, paying attention, or problem-solving. Stroke, dementia, and traumatic brain injury are often common causes. 
  • Swallowing disorders: Difficulty feeding and swallowing, known as dysphagia, is common in those who have suffered from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain illnesses or other injuries. 

Speech-Language Pathology Careers

Where do speech-language pathologists work?

Speech-language pathologists can work in any setting where they interact with patients experiencing issues or disorders related to language, speech, or swallowing. Typical workplaces include schools, clinics, private practice, and hospitals, among others. 

How much do speech-language pathologists make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), speech-language pathologists earn an average salary of approximately $80,500 per year. The number of SLPs is expected to grow roughly 25 percent from 2019 to 2029, adding more than 40,000 positions. This growth is much faster than the four percent growth expected for all occupations in total over the same timeframe. 

Becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist

If the role described above aligns with your personal and professional goals, then a career as a speech-language pathologist could be the right one for you. In addition to enjoying competitive wages and significant job growth over the coming decade and beyond, you will be able to make a real difference for the individuals that you treat.

To become an SLP, you will first need to earn an undergraduate degree in a related field (such as a BS in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology or a BS in Communication Disorders). You will then need to complete a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, a Master of Science in Communicative Sciences and Disorders. After completing a post-graduate fellowship, you will then need to pass the national exam in speech-language pathology and apply for licensure in the field in which you wish to practice.

Interested in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist? Learn more about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern University.