What Does a Speech Therapist Do?

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Updated on May 13, 2024
Boluwatife Oluwasegun

Written by Boluwatife Oluwasegun

Master’s in Audiology and Speech Pathology

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If you have ever come across the term “speech therapist” in healthcare conversations but aren’t quite sure what they do, you have come to the right place. 

But before we delve into the specifics of their role, let’s start with the basics. What is speech therapy, and who are these professionals known as speech therapists? 

What Is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy is a treatment that improves an individual’s ability to communicate, including speech and language skills. It covers a wide range of speech disorders, voice disorders, and other conditions that may be caused by brain damage. People with conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, and speech problems resulting from injury or illness may benefit from this therapy. 

Who Is Then a Speech Therapist?

A speech and language therapist (SLT), commonly known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), is a certified professional specializing in helping individuals, both children and adults, with communication or swallowing challenges. Because communication involves many different activities, Speech Therapists’ duties change significantly depending on the specific speech problem they’re working on. Their expertise spans from articulation therapy for children to augmentative communication strategies for adults with neurological conditions.

What Does a Speech Therapist Do?

As mentioned earlier, A speech therapist, also known as a speech-language pathologist, helps individuals with speech and language difficulties to communicate effectively. They work with people of all ages and help them with various speech and language disorders, such as stammering, stuttering, voice disorders, articulation problems, language delays, and swallowing disorders.

Speech therapists can be found in various settings, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and private clinics. Many also offer teletherapy services, which can be accessed from the comfort of your home. If you are looking for a speech therapist, you can ask your doctor for a referral, check with your insurance provider, or search online directories for licensed and certified therapists in your area.

Speech therapists are involved in various activities to address their patients’ communication and swallowing concerns. These activities include;

Assessement and Evaluation

Speech-language therapists work closely with their patients, as well as their families and caregivers, to conduct thorough evaluations and create personalized treatment plans tailored to each individual’s specific swallowing and communication needs. 

During this process, speech-language therapists use various diagnostic techniques to identify any communication or swallowing issues that may impede communication abilities. These assessments are done by conducting interviews, reviewing medical records, administering standardized tests to gather relevant information, and then creating treatment plans based on the assessment results. They also record and track evaluation results and collaborate with other specialists when necessary.

Once potential disorders are identified, speech therapists conduct thorough evaluations to understand the individual’s communication abilities and challenges comprehensively. This involves a combination of standardized tests, informal assessments, interviews with the individual and their caregivers, and observations in various contexts.

Common Disorders That Speech Therapists Treat

1. Articulation disorders: This is difficulty with forming certain word sounds, leading to problems with words that have sounds added, changed, dropped, or distorted. 

2. Fluency Disorders: Stuttering and cluttering are two instances of how these disorders impair the rhythm, cadence, and flow of speech. While cluttering appears as quick speech with blended words, stuttering is characterized by difficulty articulating sounds, which results in blocked or interrupted speech. 

3. Resonance diseases: These are characterized by abnormal airflow in the nasal or oral canals, which modify voice vibrations. They are frequently linked to neurological diseases or cleft palates. 

4. Receptive disorders: People who suffer from these have trouble processing spoken language, making it difficult to follow instructions or use an extensive vocabulary. Autism, hearing loss, and brain trauma are among the possible causes. 

5. Expressive Disorders: This refers to problems with verbal communication, including correct sentence construction and verb tenses. They may result from diseases, head injuries, or developmental delays. 

6. Cognitive-Communication Disorders: This results from damage to the brain that impairs the ability to think, solve problems, speak, and listen. Strokes or neurological disorders are among the causes. 

7. Aphasia: This is an acquired disorder, which is frequently brought on by strokes or other brain illnesses and impairs speaking, comprehension, reading, and writing skills.

8. Dysphagia: This is an eating or swallowing disorder that can cause difficulty biting, chewing, or sucking food. Some patients have oral feeding issues that require prompt attention from qualified speech therapists to assist the patient to regain their health through appropriate feeding. These issues could include drooling, gagging, spitting, and others.

9. Dysarthria: Usually brought on by nervous system diseases like multiple sclerosis or stroke, dysarthria is characterized by delayed or slurred speech due to muscular weakness or control problems. 

What Population Do Speech Therapists Work With?

1. Children

Early Intervention for Developmental Delays

Speech therapists collaborate closely with parents, teachers, and pediatricians to spot delays and offer timely solutions. These interventions could involve parent advice on language-development activities to encourage language development at home and speech and language therapy sessions to enhance communication skills.

Speech Therapy in School Settings

To assist children with speech and language impairments in the classroom, speech therapists collaborate closely with teachers and other school personnel. Different communication goals may be the focus of therapy sessions, including better articulation, language understanding, social communication skills, and literacy development.

2. Adults

Rehabilitation After Strokes or Traumatic Brain Injuries

   For individuals recovering from strokes or traumatic brain injuries, speech therapists are an essential component of their care. The primary goal of therapy is to improve communication abilities, including swallowing function, speech production, language understanding and expression, and cognitive communication skills. To address the patient’s holistic requirements and enhance recovery, the therapists collaborate closely with other rehabilitation specialists, such as physical and occupational therapists.

Therapy for Age-Related Speech and Language Disorders

 As people age, various variables, including neurological disorders, cognitive decline, and degenerative diseases, can impair their ability to speak and understand language. Speech-language pathologists provide focused therapies for age-related speech and language impairments, such as voice abnormalities, dysarthria, and aphasia. The goals of treatment include helping older people live better lives, maintaining their capacity for functional communication in daily situations, and increasing their overall communication skills.

Importance Of Speech Therapy on This Population

Developing Effective Communication Techniques

Expressing our thoughts, feelings, wants, and desires through effective communication is essential to human connection. The abilities and strategies required to enhance our capacity for sound articulation, sentence construction, and the utilization of alternate modes of communication are granted to patients through speech therapy. 

Enhancing Academic Success

Children’s social and academic growth depends on their ability to communicate effectively. Speech and language impairments, disorders, and challenges that may impair a child’s capacity to learn, engage in school activities, and socialize with classmates are addressed in speech therapy. Together with educators, parents, and other professionals, speech therapists help kids realize their full academic potential, develop their reading skills, and establish a supportive learning environment that encourages the development of communication.

Promoting Emotional Well-being

Frustration, worry, low self-esteem, and social isolation can result from communication problems. Through speech therapy, people can express themselves, overcome obstacles, and gain confidence in their capacity for communication in a secure and encouraging setting. By addressing communication impediments and enhancing self-expression, speech therapy supports people in asserting their identities, advocating for their needs, and navigating social relationships more confidently and efficiently. Consequently, this improves their general emotional health and quality of life.

Supporting Health and Wellness

Speech therapy is a holistic treatment that addresses more than just speaking. It also covers voice quality, swallowing function, and cognitive communication abilities. When it comes to diagnosing and treating illnesses like dysphagia, voice problems, and cognitive-communication impairments, speech therapists are indispensable. This aids in fostering the best possible health and wellness. In addition to improving dietary intake and lowering the risk of aspiration pneumonia, speech therapy can also maintain cognitive functions and enhance vocal performance. Every one of these advantages promotes general mental and physical health.

Techniques used by Speech therapists

Speech therapists employ various techniques and approaches to tackle communication and swallowing difficulties experienced by people from different populations. Each method, from articulation therapy to cognitive communication interventions, serves a distinct purpose in helping individuals express themselves effectively and improve their overall quality of life.

Articulation Therapy

Articulation therapy is used to enhance clarity and intelligibility by improving the production of speech sounds. Speech therapists use targeted exercises to help individuals refine their articulatory skills, correct mispronunciations, and develop accurate speech patterns. This technique is beneficial for children with speech sound disorders, such as phonological processes or articulation errors, as it helps them communicate effectively and confidently.

Fluency Shaping Techniques

For people who have fluency disorders like stuttering, fluency shaping techniques can provide ways to improve the production of smooth and fluent speech. These techniques involve exercises that control breathing, elongate speech, and initiate sounds gently. They help individuals to relax, reduce tension, and change their speech patterns, which in turn helps them manage their stuttering and communicate more easily and confidently.

Voice Therapy

Voice therapy is a type of treatment that aims to address disorders affecting the quality, pitch, and resonance of the voice. The main objective of this therapy is to optimize vocal function and prevent vocal misuse or abuse. During voice therapy sessions, speech therapists usually employ exercises to improve vocal fold coordination, breath support, and resonance placement. These exercises help enhance vocal projection, clarity, and endurance. People who suffer from voice disorders such as vocal nodules, vocal polyps, or vocal fold paralysis can benefit significantly from voice therapy. It enables them to maintain healthy vocal habits and preserve their vocal health.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Assistive Augmentative Communication (AAC) involves using different methods and devices to support or substitute verbal communication for people with severe communication disabilities. These may include picture-based communication boards, devices that generate synthetic speech, or sign language. Qualified speech therapists assess individuals’ communication needs and preferences, recommend appropriate AAC strategies, and provide training to promote effective communication interactions. AAC promotes individuals’ autonomy, social participation, and communication ability across diverse settings.

Cognitive-Communication Therapy

Cognitive communication therapy aims to improve communication skills by addressing cognitive deficits such as memory, attention, problem-solving, and executive function. Speech therapists employ cognitive rehabilitation techniques to enhance cognitive processes vital for effective communication, such as organizing thoughts, following directions, and maintaining topic coherence. Cognitive communication therapy benefits individuals who have experienced brain injuries, dementia, or developmental disorders, as it improves their communication effectiveness and overall cognitive function.

Swallowing Therapy

Difficulties in swallowing function caused by medical conditions, neurological disorders, or structural abnormalities can be addressed through swallowing therapy, also known as dysphagia rehabilitation. Speech therapists evaluate an individual’s swallowing ability, suggest compensatory strategies or exercises, and work with interdisciplinary teams to improve nutritional intake and prevent aspiration. Swallowing therapy aims to increase the safety and efficiency of swallowing, reducing the likelihood of complications such as aspiration pneumonia and malnutrition.


Speech therapists play a crucial role in helping people of all ages overcome communication and swallowing challenges, which can significantly improve their quality of life and overall well-being. They use various techniques, including articulation therapy, fluency shaping techniques, voice therapy, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), cognitive-communication therapy, and swallowing therapy, to address various speech and language disorders with compassion and expertise.

Whether it is children with developmental delays or adults recovering from strokes or traumatic brain injuries, speech therapists customize their interventions to meet the unique needs of each individual, fostering effective communication, promoting academic success, supporting emotional well-being, and enhancing health and wellness. Suppose you or your loved ones have noticed any signs of speech or language difficulties. In that case, it is essential to seek the guidance of a qualified speech therapist. Whether in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, or private clinics, speech therapists are dedicated professionals committed to helping individuals unlock their voices and communicate confidently and authentically.

If you are passionate about making a difference in people’s lives through communication, consider exploring these programs to kick-start your journey toward becoming a speech therapist.