What is a Speech and Language Therapist?
A speech and language therapist (speech-language pathologist ) assesses, diagnoses and provides therapeutic interventions for people of all ages who are experiencing speech, language, communication or swallowing difficulties. Speech and language therapy jobs involve working with a wide range of people in a variety of settings. Over time a speech and language therapist may become a specialist speech and language therapist in a defined field.
Speech and language therapy Jobs
Speech and language therapy jobs are varied, and practitioners work in a variety of settings and with a wide range of anatomical, physiological and psychological impairments and resultant disabilities. Speech and language therapists have undertaken extensive speech and language therapy education and will typically be a member of a professional speech and language therapy association. They seek to reduce the effects of communication and/or swallowing difficulties and help individuals meet the needs of daily living. The following are core features of any speech and language therapy job.
Speech and language therapists may be directly employed by government bodies (e.g. UK National Health Service), private clinics, schools, Education Authorities, hospitals, private individuals, and so on. In many countries, practitioners may offer their services on a self-employed basis.
Assessment and diagnosis
A speech and language therapist assesses and diagnoses speech, language, stuttering, voice, communication, and swallowing difficulties in people of all ages. These difficulties may arise because of:
- acquired childhood aphasia
- autism spectrum disorder
- brain Injury
- cerebral palsy
- cleft lip/palate
- developmental language delay
- developmental speech delay
- genetic and medical conditions (e.g. Down’s Syndrome; Triple X Syndrome; craniofacial abnormalities)
- head and neck cancer
- head and neck injury
- hearing impairment/deafness
- learning disability
- mental health difficulties (e.g. avoidant personality disorder; dementia)
- neurological disorder (e.g. Huntington’s disease; motor neurone disease; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; stroke)
- physical disability
- psychologically based communication disorders (e.g. social skills deficits; behavioral difficulties; problem solving difficulties)
- specific language impairment
- specific speech impairment
- velopharyngeal anomalies
- visual impairment
In addition, speech and language therapists plan and deliver therapeutic programs intended to prevent and alleviate such difficulties. The aim is to help people communicate more effectively and to eat and drink safely.
Speech and language therapists also frequently take on an educator or health promotion role and will offer training services to the local community (e.g. schools, health centers, nursing homes, kindergartens). The aim is to build awareness among the public of the impact of a communication/swallowing difficulty and to enable people to interact more effectively with people who are experiencing such difficulties.
The speech and language therapist works closely with other professionals involved in the care of individuals (e.g. physical therapist, occupational therapist, physician, teacher, social worker, health visitor, psychologist). In addition, they liaise with salient others in the affected individual’s environment who can assist in improving the effectiveness of their communication/swallowing (e.g. parents, carers, friends, volunteers, colleagues, employers).
Many speech and language therapy teams now include Speech and Language Therapy Assistants or Speech and Language Therapy Technicians. These practitioners are not required to be fully-qualified speech and language therapists. They typically work either alongside a speech and language therapist or on their own in a supporting role – but always under the direction of a qualified speech and language therapist. Co-workers who speak more than one language also provide an important addition to teams delivering services in geographical areas where more than one world language is spoken.
Within the UK, speech and language therapy services are delivered in a variety of settings, including:
Health Authority premises:
- specialist clinics (e.g. child development centers; rehabilitation centers)
- health centers
- hospitals (e.g. acute; community day hospitals)
Education Authority premises:
Social Services premises:
- supported living homes
- individuals’ homes
- independent nurseries and schools
- places of employment
 Qualified practitioners around the world use different (authorized) titles, e.g. speech-pathologist (Australia); logopedist (Italy).