Many individuals will encounter a speech pathologist in their lifetime, whether for themselves or a loved one. But what is a speech pathologist, exactly, and what do they do? A speech pathologist provides a variety of services to patients to improve their communication.

What is a Speech Pathologist?

A speech pathologist (also known as a speech-language pathologist, speech therapist, or SLP) is a health professional who provides speech and swallowing therapy to individuals ranging from birth to old age. They are experts in communication and hold a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.

Speech pathologists work in many different locations, from a school setting to a medical office or long-term care facility. They often work together on a team with other health care professionals (physicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and others) to best treat patients.

What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

A speech pathologist is trained in the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of communication and swallowing disorders.

Speech pathologists treat many different communication delays and disorders, and their scope of practice is quite wide. They provide specialized treatment and therapy in the following areas. (For a more thorough description of these areas, check the post What is Speech Therapy).

Speech-Language Pathologist Scope of Practice

The speech-language pathologist’s scope of practice refers to the areas of expertise they are qualified to assess and treat. It includes the following areas:

  1. Articulation. Also known as a speech sound disorder, articulation disorders are when speech sounds are not correctly produced (like when a child substitutes W for an R and says “wock” instead of “rock.”)
  2. Language. Language disorders occur when an individual has difficulty communicating their wants and needs or understanding spoken or written language.
  3. Fluency. A fluency disorder interrupts the normal rhythm, rate, and speed of speech. A fluency disorder includes stuttering (repetitions of sounds or words or blocks in the flow of speech) and cluttering (talking at a fast rate with abnormal pauses and deletion of syllables or sounds).
  4. Resonance. Neurological disorders or cleft palate might cause a resonance disorder, when there is too much or too little sound energy in the nasal and/or oral (mouth) cavities.
  5. Voice. Many individuals will need to see a speech pathologist for a voice condition or disorder, including vocal nodules, spasmodic dysphonia, or vocal fold paralysis. They can also be seen to help improve voice output when singing or public speaking.
  6. Cognition. A speech therapist provides therapy for individuals with cognitive delays, deficits, or disorders. This therapy works to improve attention, memory, problem-solving, and executive functioning following a stroke or brain damage.
  7. Feeding and Swallowing. Speech pathologists are feeding and swallowing experts that work with clients to ensure they are able to eat and swallow safely.
  8. Auditory Habilitation/Rehabilitation. Speech pathologists often work with audiologists to improve communication in patients with hearing loss. They may also work with individuals who are learning how to identify speech after receiving a cochlear implant or other medical devices that improve hearing.
  9. Other Specialties. Since speech pathologists are communication experts, they can help patients who want to modify an accent or improve their public speaking.

Colorful blocks spelling out the words speech therapist.

Where Do Speech Pathologists Work?

Speech pathologists work in many different settings. Since they treat patients from newborn babies to the elderly at the end of their life, they are found in any number of work locations. The following list is an example of a handful of places where speech pathologists work.

  • Schools.
  • Clinics.
  • Private practice.
  • Hospitals.
  • Skilled nursing facilities.
  • Inpatient rehabilitation facilities.
  • Long-term care facilities.
  • Telepractice.

Speech Pathologist Salary

The salary for a speech pathologist varies depending on education background, therapy setting (schools vs. medical vs. private practice), years of experience, and the state and city they are providing therapy services. In general, the average salary ranges from around $50,000-$100,000.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association conducts a survey every two years that includes salaries and hourly wages for speech-language pathologists. These numbers are broken down into SLPs in schools and SLPs in health care to give a better estimation of how much a speech pathologist makes.

Here is a summary of the most recent reports on speech pathologist salary:

ASHA 2020 Schools Survey

The following are results on salaries from SLPs in a variety of educational settings, including day/residential schools, preschools, elementary or secondary schools, or a combination of facilities.

  • Average salary (9-10 months of work)  – $66,000
  • Average salary (11-12 months of work) – $80,000
  • Average annual salary ranged from $63,000 to $75,000

Additionally, the highest average salary in the schools was reported in California and the lowest in North Carolina:

  • Lowest average salary – North Carolina ($54,060)
  • Highest average salary – California ($95,000)

ASHA 2021 Health Care Survey

The following average annual salaries included the following health care settings – general medical, VA, military, long-term acute care, university hospitals, home health, outpatient, pediatric hospitals, rehab hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).

  • Average salary of clinical service providers – $78,000
  • Average salary of administrators and supervisors (who also saw some patients) – $92,000
  • Average salary of exclusively administrators or supervisors – $105,000

Additionally, the highest and lowest average salary was broken down by facility type, geographic region, and years of experience:

  • Lowest average salary – $64,000 (1-3 years of experience)
  • Highest average salary – $95,000 (25+ years of experience)

Speech-language pathologist showing a girl how to say a sound correctly.

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Similar to other health professionals, it takes a bit of time and effort to become a speech pathologist. All licensed speech-language pathologists hold at least a master’s degree, and it takes approximately 7 years to earn your degree in speech pathology.

Here’s a quick summary of how to become a speech pathologist.

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders (or a related field)
  2. Complete a master’s program in Speech-Language Pathology
  3. Pass the Praxis Exam
  4. Complete a Clinical Fellowship (CF)
  5. Obtain licensure and Certification of Clinical Competence (CCC)

If you are interested in becoming a speech pathologist, you can contact local universities or meet with an academic advisor for information on degree requirements to best begin your journey towards earning your degree.

When to See a Speech Pathologist

The following concerns may warrant contacting a speech pathologist for assistance.

  • Feeding issues in babies or children
  • Delayed speech or communication in young children
  • Speech sounds that aren’t said correctly
  • Speech is too fast or characterized by sound repetitions
  • Speech contains grammatically incorrect sentences or  a limited vocabulary

Additionally, contacting a professional may be beneficial if you or a loved one is experiencing the following:

  • Difficulty understanding speech or struggling to follow directions
  • Pain or discomfort when speaking
  • Difficulty speaking or communicating, especially following an injury or medical condition
  • Struggling to recall words when speaking
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing

Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and if you are concerned about your speech or communication, or that of a loved one, contact us at The Speech Guide or reach out to a local speech pathologist for an assessment or evaluation.

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One Comment

  1. Shammy Peterson October 5, 2023 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    It caught my attention when you said that delayed speech or communication in young children and incorrect speech sounds are some of the signs that a speech pathologist can help. My three-year-old niece has been showing signs of speech delay and stuttering problems, so my sister is starting to get concerned. I will share your tips with her when we meet later this afternoon, so she can be well guided.

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