How to Pursue a Career as a Speech and Language Pathologist

Speech Therapy with Child

Speech and language therapy is a fascinating and much-needed discipline, with many applications treating a wide range of disorders. Patients of a Speech-Language Pathologist (or Therapist) benefit from rehabilitated or enhanced communication and social skills, whether suffering from a congenital condition, neurological condition, or recovering from a medical event or injury.

What Does an SLP Do?

Speech-Language Pathologists (or Speech Therapists) diagnose and treat disorders related to communication and swallowing. These include conditions that inhibit speech, such as “disfluencies” like stuttering,

SLPs work with a variety of populations to develop, encourage, or rehabilitate swallowing and communicative function. These populations may include individuals in the deaf community or those with other hearing disorders, neuro-psychological individuals such as those with autism spectrum disorders, stroke survivors, patients with dementia, and more.

Where Does an SLP Work?

Professional Speech Pathologists can be found in a range of settings, often chosen according to area of focus. For example, an SLP who works specifically with dementia patients might seek employment in a nursing home. Or, you might treat clients who want to improve existing speech skills by enhancing resonance, for example, or modifying an accent. This care is often delivered through private practice. Common places of practice for SLPs are:

  • Hospitals
  • Private Practice Offices
  • Nursing Homes and Assisted Living
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Schools

What Education Do You Need to Become an SLP?

  • Undergraduate Degree (BS or Other): Before you enroll in a master’s program to become a Speech-Language Pathologist, you’ll need a bachelor-level degree. There’s no rule as to which degree you’ll need, but many aspiring SLPs choose a related field, such as linguistics, psychology, or education.
  • Master of Speech-Language Pathology (MSLP): This advanced degree prepares students of speech pathology for autonomous practice. Graduated and licensed MSLPs work with both adults and children in diverse communities with a range of treatment needs.
  • Pre- Speech-Language Pathology (Pre-MSLP): Pre-MSLP study is not a degree program; rather, it provides the preparatory coursework needed by aspiring Speech-Language Pathologists who haven’t completed a bachelor’s or studied a related field. These courses are also referred to as “leveling courses.”

Speech-Language Pathology Specializations

As with many healthcare and behavioral-medicine disciplines, speech therapists study and work in a wide range of specialties, some to assess and treat disorders and others purely elective.

  • Fluency/Stuttering: Stuttering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is characterized by:
    • Repetitions (li-li-like this)
    • Prolongations (lllllike this)
    • Abnormal stoppages (no sound) of sounds and syllables.

There may also be unusual facial and body movements associated with the effort to speak. 

  • Cognitive/Communication: Cognitive/ communication disorders include, but are not limited to:
    • The effects of normal aging processes
    • Mild cognitive impairment
    • Focal and diffuse brain damage due to stroke (left/right hemisphere; cortical/subcortical, focal/diffuse)
    • Neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Lewy body dementia multiple sclerosis
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Primary progressive aphasia
    • Progressive supranuclear palsy, etc.
    • Traumatic injuries (e.g., traumatic brain injury/chronic traumatic encephalopathy, concussion, head injury, or blast injury) across the lifespan
  • Social Communication: This type of therapy occurs with patients across the lifespan in all aspects of life, including:
    • Communication and language learning and use
    • Social interaction and relationships, and life skills
    • Assessment and treatment practices, including acknowledging the importance of culturally responsive practices, neurodiversity, and disability.
  • Expressive and Receptive Language: Language disorders involve comprehension and expression, and may manifest in verbal or written communication, or both.
  • Voice and Resonance: This area includes the assessment and management of individuals with normal or disordered voice or upper airway issues, throughout the lifespan. This includes but is not limited to:
    • Professional and occupational voice use
    • Gender-affirming voice and communication
    • Tracheostomy and ventilator dependence
  • Dysphasia/Swallowing: Feeding and swallowing disorders occur in both children and adults. This is also often an after-effect of stroke, injury, or illness, causing difficulty in swallowing. This area also includes feeding and sensory integration therapy for young children.
  • Auditory Habilitation/ Rehabilitation: This type of therapy entails all aspects of therapeutic intervention for individuals with a varying degree of hearing loss from newborns to geriatrics using an interprofessional approach to patient care.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): AAC is inclusive of individuals who have complex communication needs secondary to a wide range of developmental and acquired conditions across the life span. This type of therapy utilizes technologies, strategies, and techniques to enhance the language development, quality of life, and independence of individuals with significant communication challenges..

  • Speech Sound Disorders: This type of therapy includes the assessment, differential diagnosis, and treatment of speech sound disorders (SSD) and motor speech disorders (MSD) in children, not secondary to hearing loss. Speech sound disorders include articulatory and phonological deficits as well as motor speech disorders such as apraxia of speech and dysarthria.

Communication and swallowing therapy can result in meaningful improvement not just in speech and language, but an individual’s quality of life; MSLP’s enjoy an impactful and rewarding career field.

If you’ve decided to make a difference for patients who will benefit from speech-language therapy by earning your MSLP degree, begin researching accredited schools and programs to further your education and prepare you for licensing requirements. The good news is you can now pursue this degree largely online and often on a flexible schedule, ideal for working professionals ready to take the next step in pursuing this life-changing line of work.

Visit our web pages to learn more about WCU’s Pre-MSLP and MSLP programs.

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.