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Speech Therapy Training Programs and Requirements

Speech therapists, usually called speech-language pathologists, study and treat speech and communication disorders that affect their patients. Because speech therapy is a medical field and therapists are responsible for diagnosing and providing treatment, practicing speech therapists generally complete a master's degree in the field. Therapists work in doctor's offices and hospitals, schools and in private practice.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Aspiring speech and language pathologists should complete a bachelor's degree with coursework in the biological sciences and communications in preparation for an accredited graduate program. Additional skills necessary for success in the field include good listening skills and the ability to communicate with a varied population of patients and their families. Students also must be prepared to organize and patiently support long treatment plans.

Formal Education

Master's programs in speech and language pathology are the generally accepted standard for practicing speech therapists. Such programs are accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation, which is a division of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). A large number of programs are available at educational institutions that are affiliated with medical schools.

Master of Science in Speech and Language Pathology

A master's program is usually completed in 2-3 years and provides speech therapy training through advanced academic coursework, original research and extensive clinical experiences. Didactic coursework includes anatomy and physiology, phonetics, linguistics and phonology, scientific methods and communication assessment.

Job Experience

Training programs incorporate a variety of clinical experiences into the speech and language pathology curriculum. Students usually must complete 25-40 hours of on-site, supervised training for degree completion. Upon graduation, students usually complete a year of clinical, supervised practice in an entry level position before they are eligible to practice independently.

Licenses and Certifications

Most state professional regulatory boards require speech and language pathologists to have completed a master's degree plus at least 300 hours of supervised clinical experience in order to obtain licensure. Master's programs usually must be accredited by ASHA for licensing purposes. Also, many states require successful completion of the ASHA national certification exam. A varying number of continuing education hours are required in order to maintain licensure.

Workshops and Seminars

ASHA offers an annual convention each year and sponsors numerous other educational events for speech-language pathologists. Web-based seminars and online modules are available monthly with topics appropriate for clinical and school-based practitioners. As a medical field, there are continual changes in treatment methods and therefore continuing education is necessary to stay up to date.

Additional Professional Development

ASHA provides a substantial number of services for its members, and works to accredit practitioners in order to ensure they are eligible for state licensure. The professional organization has more than 130,000 members. In order to become a certified member, pathologists must earn a graduate degree, complete 400 hours of clinical observation and practice and successfully complete the Praxis examination. The clinical practice must be supervised by a currently certified speech-language pathologist.

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