What is a Speech Pathologist?

Speech Pathologists work with people who have trouble with communication or swallowing. They research, diagnose and treat communication disorders. They help people who have trouble:

  • Speaking clearly
  • Using language (words, sentences and grammar)

  • Speaking fluently (due to stuttering, cluttering, etc)

  • Using their voice

  • Understanding written or spoken information

  • Spelling or using written expression

Speech Pathologists work with people who have difficulty communicating due to:

  • Stroke
  • Brain injury

  • Developmental delay

  • Dementia

  • Hearing loss

  • Intellectual disability

  • Learning disability

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Diseases

  • Other problems

Speech Pathologists fit into the category of the “Allied Health” professionals, along with Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Social Workers and others. We often work with other allied health and medical practitioners to help our clients.

Did you know?

Speech Pathologists also work with people who have trouble swallowing. This is because problems with communication and swallowing can often occur at the same time, due to involvement of the same area of brain, nerves or muscles.

Speech Pathologist or Speech Therapist?

In different countries, we have different job titles. In the USA we are called “Speech-Language Pathologists”. In the UK we are usually referred to as “Speech Therapists”. In Australia we call ourselves “Speech Pathologists”. Despite being called different titles in different places, the profession is the same worldwide: we are experts in communication and swallowing disorders.

SPEECH Pathologist does not capture well the scope of our expertise, since speech is just a part of communication. “Speech” usually refers to the sounds used in spoken communication. However communication encompasses so much more – including language, voice, fluency, social skills and nonverbal communication (eg. reading, writing and using alternative and augmentative communication). See my article on “What is Communication?” for more information.

Perhaps a better job title for us would be “Communication and swallowing therapists” as this better reflects the variety of our work.

Public or private Speech Pathologist?

Speech Pathologists work in both private and public sectors. Whether working in private or public services, we have the same requirements for practising (see “Qualifications” below). If you see a SP in public services, you will usually not have to pay for the service, however you may need to wait for the service. If you see a SP in private services, you may need to pay, however you have the benefits of not having to wait for the service and, depending on the availability of SPs in your area, you may have greater choice of therapists and flexibility in how services are provided.


In Australia, Speech Pathologists can study at undergraduate or post-graduate level at university. This means that a Speech Pathologist studies for at least 4 or 5 years at University. The requirements of graduating from Speech Pathology degrees and entering the profession are regulated by our association, Speech Pathology Australia.

A “Certified Practising Speech Pathologist” (CPSP) is someone who fulfils the requirements of Speech Pathology Australia by completing a certain amount of professional development each year. CPSP status is now required for practising membership by Speech Pathology Australia, and to be a provider of Medicare and private health insurance services.

Speech Pathology Australia

Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) is the association which regulates our profession in Australia. SPA acts to:

  • Provide information to the public and Speech Pathologists
  • Advocate for people with communication and swallowing problems

  • Regulate the profession

  • Help Speech Pathologists with continuing professional development

  • Promote research of communication and swallowing disorders

For more information