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What is a Speech Pathologist?

What is a Speech Pathologist?
Photo: What is a Speech Pathologist?
A speech pathologist is an Allied Health professional who helps people to communicate more effectively through speech and other forms of communication.  Formerly, this profession used to be called speech therapy.

Communication just doesn’t involve talking or “speech“ though.  Hearing, writing, reading and understanding gestures, signs and symbols all form part of communication.  A speech pathologist will help a patient develop the communication skills that they are lacking.

A speech pathologist will first assess and diagnose a patient.  The patient may have a stutter, have trouble swallowing and forming words or may need rehabilitation after suffering a stroke or head injury.

A speech pathologist’s role can be very varied and he or she may see a wide range of patients
throughout each day.  A speech pathologist can work with babies to senior citizens.

A baby may need help in order to suckle properly, especially if he or she has a cleft palate.  A child may need help understanding words if they have a cochlear implant.  A high school girl may need assistance in overcoming an embarrassing stutter.  An adult male from a foreign country might want to overcome his thick accent so he can be better understood.  A senior citizen may need to learn how to speak again after suffering a stroke.

There are many more reasons why people seek the services of a speech pathologist, such as needing help to swallow food and drink and children who are late developers and haven’t started talking yet.

Kindergarten children may require the services of a speech pathologist in order to overcome lisps, stutters and forming words correctly.  They may also need help in understanding language and using it appropriately.

A speech pathologist may also use therapy as a way of helping people conquer their communication problems.  This might involve individual therapy, group therapy or family therapy.

A speech pathologist’s patients may include people suffering from medical conditions such as autism, hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, cleft palate, cancer, voice disorder, tracheotomy, stroke and developmental delay.

A speech pathologist may work in a public or private hospital, in a community health centre or in teaching or research.  They can also specialise in different fields, such as geriatric care, paediatrics, mental health, rehabilitation, acute care and physical or intellectual disabilities.

How do you become a speech pathologist?

You need to complete a four year full time undergraduate degree at university.  The Bachelor of Speech Pathology is available at universities throughout Australia.  It’s important that your university course is accredited with Speech Pathology Australia.  Once you have graduated, you will be eligible for membership to Speech Pathology Australia, and be able to work as a qualified speech pathologist.

There is also a Master of Speech Pathology which is a two year full time postgraduate degree.  The master’s degree enables people who have an undergraduate degree in a different field to become qualified as a speech pathologist.

If you’re patient, enjoy helping people, have good communication skills and like dealing with complicated situations, then you may find a career as a speech pathologist a very satisfying one.

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