Speech therapy, also called speech pathology, is the treatment of speaking and swallowing problems and disorders in a wide variety of patients and clients.

Speech and language therapists and pathologists work with individuals who have speech impediments of all kinds, helping them to be heard and understood. Speech and swallowing problems can arise from a wide range of conditions and injuries, like cleft palates, hearing loss, mental disorders, or strokes.

Speech-language pathologists and therapists work in a variety of different settings, with most in education and healthcare.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9% of speech-language pathologists were self-employed in 2008.

Because of the importance of their work and complexity of the methods used by speech-language pathologists, a master’s degree is required for most speech-language pathology positions.

Speech Therapy Career Outlook


Job opportunities for qualified speech-language pathologists are expected to be favorable from 2008 to 2018.   According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 119,300 working speech-language pathologists in 2008.  That figure is expected to increase by 19%, or 22,100 jobs, by 2018.  That’s a projected growth rate much higher than the expected 8.2% expansion of the entire civilian work force.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Occupational Information Net (O*NET), a project of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, expects that there will be a total of 43,800 positions available to licensed and qualified speech-language pathologists from 2008 to 2018; that figure includes the 22,100 new positions the BLS predicts AND job openings due to retirement, early termination, etc.

Speech-language pathologists in the educational system will have the best career outlook, thanks in large part to recent legislation that guarantees services like speech therapy to all eligible students.  The BLS notes that the demand for speech-language pathologists in the healthcare community may be tempered by insurance limits on therapy reimbursement, but will still be strong.  Self-employed speech-language pathologists or those working for small speech therapy companies are expected to also have good opportunities; more educational and healthcare providers may choose to contract out their speech therapy needs.

Speech-Language Pathologist Earnings

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly earnings for speech-language pathologists in 2008 were $62,930.  The middle 50% earned between $50,330 and $79,620, while the bottom 10% earned less than $41,240 and the top 10% earned more than $99,220.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Speech Therapy Educational Benefits

Requirements vary from state to state, but generally speech-language pathologists must have a master’s degree or higher to qualify for licensing exams.  Most graduate programs award master’s degrees, and they generally take 2 to 3 years to complete (there are a few 1-year accelerated programs).

As always, prerequisites for speech therapy programs differ, but completed coursework in the physical and social sciences is generally looked upon favorably.

Speech therapy coursework generally includes anatomy, physiology, principles of acoustics, development, psychological aspects of a communication, and principles of education.   Speech therapists are taught a range of effective speech therapy techniques in the course of their graduate education.

Speech Therapy Programs Online

Degrees Possible: Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral Degrees

There are a growing number of speech therapy degrees offered online, including bachelor’s degrees and certificates, and transitional master’s and doctoral degrees.  Master’s and doctoral programs that do exist are offered only to licensed speech-language pathologists, or health professionals in other closely related fields.

Speech Therapy Skills and Abilities

Speech-language pathologists are instructors who must effectively communicate tasks and methods to their students and clients.  Because their students sometimes have mentally or physically disabling conditions, progress with simple tasks can be slow, so patience and compassion can mean job satisfaction.

Because they usually deal with many students at once, each at a different level of verbal capability, speech-language pathologists should be strong organizationally and able to multi-task effectively.

Advancement and Qualification

Completion of a master’s or doctoral-level program in speech therapy and the required state examinations qualifies the candidate for entry-level speech-language pathologist positions.  Continued formal education can qualify licensed, working speech-language for supervisorial positions.

Additional Information

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) maintains a website at http://www.asha.org.