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What is Speech Therapy? - Definition & Requirements

Instructor: Lisa Rose Johnson

Dr. Johnson has over a decade of experience teaching both English Language Learners and students with high incidence disabilities.

This lesson provides insight into speech therapy, which helps people improve their speech production as well as expressive and receptive language skills. Learn the definition of speech therapy and the requirements for becoming a speech therapist.

What is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy, also called speech and language therapy, is used to treat a variety of disorders related to producing speech and other oral motor functions. A person who provides speech therapy is called a speech-language pathologist (SLP). SLPs may help young students learn to overcome a stutter, or they might help geriatric patients re-learn how to swallow properly. People who receive speech therapy are generally referred to as clients (not patients), as an SLP is typically not a medical doctor.

An SLP works in a many different environments helping people with a variety of disabilities. They also sometimes have speech-language pathology assistants who work under them and provide basic services. SLPs can work in public schools, private schools, schools for the deaf, hospitals, private clinics, university clinics, nursing homes, and audiologist offices, or they can have their own private practices.

How Do I Become a Speech Therapist?

An SLP generally must earn a bachelor's degree in speech-language pathology or a related field. That person must then earn a master's degree in speech-language pathology or another related field in the area of communication sciences and disorders. SLP graduate school is competitive, and many programs have one cohort per year with 30 students or fewer. Students complete clinical hours in addition to coursework.

The requirements beyond a master's degree vary by state. However, most employers require SLPs to complete a clinical fellowship after graduation, which usually lasts one year. Many states also require certification through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association--earning the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology involves meeting strict training requirements and passing an in-depth test. Those who've earned this designation can place the honorific 'SLP-CCC' after their names.

In some cases, SLPs will go on to earn a Ph.D. or Ed.D. in speech-language pathology, often specializing in speech and voice science. They may also train other aspiring SLPs.

SLPs in Schools

In a school setting, it is not uncommon for an SLP to have high case loads of 50 or more students. Speech and language therapy can take place in a variety of settings within schools. Many young children who have speech problems, like stuttering, cluttering, a lisp or trouble producing letter sounds, receive therapy at school.

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