The field of speech pathology deals with language acquisition, speech physiology, language problems, and communication disabilities. A speech pathologist or speech therapist evaluates and diagnoses the source of the disability, then works with patients to overcome it. Many speech pathology jobs are in schools or hospitals while other speech therapists might work privately as consultants. Most speech pathologists work with patients individually and in small groups. They devise treatment programs specific to each patient, and treatment continues until the problem is remediated or until the patients can work on their own.
Most speech pathology jobs in the US require a Master’s degree. Most US post-graduate programs require a Bachelor’s degree in communication sciences or a related field. US speech therapists need a license to practice, though the type of licensing may vary from state to state. A common US certification is the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, or CCC-SLP which is offered by the American Speech Language Hearing Association. This certification requires a graduate degree, supervised clinical service, and a post-graduate clinical fellowship.
Many speech pathology jobs are in schools. The therapists work with children to overcome common problems such as stuttering, lisps, and other pronunciation difficulties. They may also work with children with physical disabilities that interfere with language acquisition and production, such as trouble swallowing, hearing impairments, cleft palates, or cerebral palsy. Children with autism might work with a speech therapist to learn socially appropriate communication pragmatics and strategies, and speech pathologists often also have training in teaching alternative communication to children whose disabilities prevent normal speaking.
Other common speech pathology jobs are in hospitals and clinics helping people rehabilitate from accidents, strokes, and other brain injuries and illnesses like aphasia or Parkinson’s disease. The pathologists work with the patients to diagnose the source of disability and re-train the patient to speak. This might involve exercises with the facial muscles, mouth, and tongue as well as the throat and respiratory tract to re-learn the control needed to speak comprehensibly. There might also be cognitive training to help a damaged brain relearn speech and auditory processing.
Some speech pathology jobs focus on communication strategies and accent reduction for communications professionals or other people unhappy with the way they speak. These therapists often work with non-native speakers to overcome their foreign accents. They can also work with actors, newscasters or other people whose jobs require public speaking, but whose regional dialects are “non-standard” and can be considered to lack prestige.