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A Day in the Life of a Speech Therapist

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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

As with most areas of the health care profession, speech therapists are expected to be in constant demand right through to the year 2000 and beyond. Speech therapists will be needed to service a rapidly aging population with significant growth in the seventy-five years and over sector of the population. Hearing loss and its associated speech disorders are expected to be one of the major health concerns of an older population. The proliferation of health care agencies, nursing homes, residential retirement communities and adult daycare centers will assure employment opportunities for speech therapists and other health specialists. With federal legislation guaranteeing the expansion of special education and related services in schools, more and younger students with disabilities will require the specialized training of speech therapists and speech-language pathologists. Therapists will be encouraged to design and implement innovative programs that will involve students and parents alike.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

At the two-year level the speech therapist is concerned with making accurate diagnoses and seeking the opinion of other health specialists. This is the stage at which the professional begins to develop her "bedside manner" or way in which she relates to patients. Emphasis is on effectively communicating test results and clearly explaining proposed treatment to patients and family members. The therapist is also careful in charting the evaluation, progress, and discharge of patients.

FIVE YEARS OUT

A speech therapist with five years of experience should be involved in the developing and implementing of personalized treatment programs. The therapist is now adept at working with physicians, psychiatric social workers, psychologists and, occasionally, neurologists, to create treatment programs that bring about effective results. At this stage the speech therapist is wont to evaluate her own professional progress and advancement potential.

TEN YEARS OUT

Teaching and research and development at the college or university level will probably offer the most intellectual gratification. Writing books and articles for publication is an integral part of any professorship. Executive-level management positions, including a directorship will offer lucrative salary scales and numerous responsibilities. Private practice offers more autonomy and flexible hours. The ten-year veteran has a number of ways to rise in her career.