A speech therapist or speech-language pathologist is someone who works with people who have difficulty speaking or swallowing. These health care professionals deal with a wide range of speech defects and disorders, from teaching someone with a cleft palate to speak after corrective surgery to helping people who suffer from stuttering disorders. Some work as private consultants, while others are associated with hospitals or health care groups. In general, employment outlooks in this field are quite good, and it is possible to find a reasonably well-paying position as a speech therapist in many regions of the world.
Licensure requirements for speech therapists vary, depending on regional laws. Typically, he or she must receive a graduate degree in the field, along with specialized training in working with patients. He or she may also be required to pass an exam which tests knowledge of speech pathology. Since regional requirements are so varied, if you are interested in pursuing a career in speech therapy, you may want to talk to a local professional about requirements in your area of the world.
Patients may seek out a speech therapist to treat a condition like stuttering or lisping. Clients may also be referred by doctors, especially if an underlying medical condition has caused a speech disorder. For example, a doctor might refer a patient to the therapist in the course of treatment for a neurological problem like a stroke which has caused slurred speech.
When a speech therapist first meets a patient, he or she usually gets to the underlying cause of the problem first. When a patient has been referred, the therapist can consult the patient's primary care doctor, but when a patient comes without a referral, identifying the cause is very important and sometimes challenging. In some cases, a patient may seek therapist out and the therapist may identify an underlying problem which requires medical treatment. Once the cause of the problem has been identified, he or she can develop a program which is tailored to the individual patient.
Typically, patients must engage in an assortment of exercises which are designed to break previous speech patterns and establish new ones. Many speech therapists also use audiovisual tools to help their patients, and patients are frequently assigned homework. In some cases, corrective devices may be used to help patients speak properly; in other instances, a speech therapist may work with a psychologist, neurologist, or another professional to treat the underlying cause of the problem while providing speech therapy to the patients.
Patients can have trouble with articulation, speech rhythms, tone, and pitch for a variety of reasons. Working with a speech therapist can help a patient speak more clearly, even if perfect speech isn't possible, and it can also even out someone's voice to make it easier to listen to and understand. Going to speech therapy can make a dramatic change in someone's life by making them able to smoothly and competently communicate. Some specialize in treatment for very specific issues; for example, many transsexuals go to a therapist to learn how to speak like a woman or man.