What Is Speech Pathology?

"I have always been really interested in language, but I have also always had an interest in counseling. I was trying to decide whether I should major in linguistics or in psychology, but then someone told me that there’s a field that combines both, called speech pathology. I have no idea what it is, and I haven’t found a simple explanation anywhere. Can you please tell me what a speech pathologist does, and what kind of work opportunities are out there? Maybe I’ve finally found the career I’ve been searching for."

asked by Laura from Boston, MA

Speech pathology is indeed a field which combines aspects of many different disciplines. Speech pathologists help those who are struggling to get their words out to communicate effectively with others. There are many different causes of speech defects. Some are physiological while others are psychological. Children and adults, young and old, can suffer from speech problems.

Since there are so many different causes of speech problems and so many different ways that speech defects can manifest, speech pathologists may be called on to combine a knowledge of medicine, language, and psychology to help patients.

There are many different types of speech pathology jobs, depending on what you specialize in. For example, some speech pathologists specifically choose to work with patients who have neurological disorders or brain damage caused by accidents. These speech pathologists have advanced medical knowledge and typically work in hospital neurology departments. Others may specialize in understanding problems like hearing loss or language delay which can impact the development of language in children. Some speech pathologists work with babies and toddlers, providing early intervention before a problem fully develops.

Speech pathologists may also work with stuttering patients and others who have no physiological or neurological basis for their problems, but have psychological problems they need to work for in order to speak clearly. Many patients require a combination of approaches since problems which begin neurologically can compound when combined with psychological factors.

Speech pathologists work in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, private clinics, schools, inside patients’ homes, and in many other locations. It all depends on the type of patient you work with. You may work with the very young or very old, or with adults spanning any age in between. Some patients do not even have genuine speech defects, but are simply trying to overcome their accents while learning English as a second language.

If you decide to go into speech pathology, you will have the opportunity to help others to overcome psychical and psychological problems and to do something which is important to any human being: communicate effectively and with confidence. Judging from what you have said about yourself and your desire to help others and work in a field that involves language, you may have found a perfect occupation that fits your talents.

Do some more research into the field and ask yourself what type of work environment you would prefer and what patients you would like to work with. If you start a degree program to become a speech pathologist, you will get to try many different types of clinical work before you make up your mind and specialize professionally.

Career Spotlight: Speech Pathologist

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