A speech therapist is a specialist with training in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of speech, voice, and language disorders who works with people, unable to make speech sounds or cannot make them clearly. They also work with people who stutter, have fluency and rhythm problems, inappropriate pitch, or harsh voice and speech quality problems. The most widespread and obvious speech disorder is stuttering, often caused by anxiety. The speech therapist sets up a program of speech exercises to reduce the disability, and if necessary, enlists the aid of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Other disorders may result from hearing loss, stroke, cerebral palsy, mental disability, or brain injury. Speech therapists keep careful records on the evaluation and progress of patients, often developing and implementing individualized treatment programs based on the input of physicians, psychiatric social workers, and psychologists. In fact, because speech disorders are usually related to neurological, psychological, and physical conditions, speech therapists must be able to work as a member of a team which may include other healthcare specialists such as a neurologist and psychiatrist.
An important part of a speech therapist's work is the counseling and support of individuals and families on speech disorders and on how to cope with the stress associated with these problems. Therapists also work with families on treatment techniques to use at home and on how to modify behavior that impedes communication. Although a speech therapist's job is not physically demanding, it does require patience and compassion, as progress may be slow and halting. Speech therapy is a painstaking process, but it can be as rewarding as it is frustrating. Tremendous attention to detail and sharp focus are necessary in the evaluation of the patient's progress. Overall, speech therapists must be able to understand and empathize with the emotional strains and stresses that such problems bring, both from the patient's and family member's point of view.
Speech therapists, like other health care professionals, must carefully diagnose problems and if necessary call upon the advice of other health specialists. The ability to distinguish the need for the professional input of specialists is critical to the therapist's success. Therapists must also monitor the progress of patients, eliminate certain programs, and introduce others that are more effective. The ability to make informed decisions that may define the success and failure of any individual program is a skill that can only come with years of experience.
An aspiring speech therapist needs a Master's degree in Speech Pathology, 375 hours of supervised clinical experience, a passing grade on a national examination and at least nine months of post-graduate professional experience. With such a strong emphasis on education, practical experience, and licensure, entrants to this field must work long and hard.
Speech therapists who wish to modify their careers have a range of choices open to them. Because the training that a speech therapist receives is substantially the same training as that of a speech-language pathologist, a switch to this profession can be accomplished quite easily. Hearing loss is associated with speech disorders and so the work of an audiologist is very closely connected. The speech therapist seeking more and varied challenges may be able to find it in special education and private rehabilitation counseling services. Research is another gratifying area for the outgoing therapist to consider. High-level administrative positions in schools, hospitals, health departments, or clinics may offer significantly higher wages and more responsibilities. Other occupations requiring rehabilitation training include occupational therapy, physical therapy, and recreational therapy.