Finding a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)

Finding a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)
When looking for a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to conduct a speech-language evaluation or perform speech therapy , there are several factors to consider when searching for a qualified professional including: level of education, credentials , areas of specialization , prior work experience and treatment philosophies.

Professionals are often chose based on word of mouth. While reputation is a good indication you may have found a skilled clinician, there are important qualifications to consider and questions to ask an SLP before you enter into a relationship. This article will explain what to look for in an SLP and what questions you should ask a potential therapist.


It is important to consider the level of education an SLP has achieved. SLPs working in private practice in the US should have a master's degree in speech-language pathology. The letters M.S. (master of science), M.A. (master of arts), M. Ed. (master of education) or M.C.D. (master of communication disorders) after their name signify the SLP holds a master's degree. A master's degree requires two years of intensive academic training including at least 25 hours of clinical observation and 375 hours of direct client/patient contact supervised by a licensed SLP following obtaining a bachelor's degree.

Graduate students in the master's degree program generally decide on an area of specialization during this period of training and begin to hone their skills in a particular area. For example, a graduate clinician may specialize in pediatrics or adult speech-language disorders and/or decide to specialize in treatment for specific disorders such as autism or swallowing disorders.

Some states in the US allow SLPs to work in the public school systems with only a bachelor's degree (B.S. or B.A.). Public school systems often offer tuition reimbursement incentive programs to attract SLPs who may want to work full-time while working toward their master's degree. SLP qualifications for the public schools vary from state to state.

While a clinician at the bachelor's degree level possesses general, introductory knowledge of speech-language pathology, the additional experience obtained at the master's level is necessary to be considered a certified SLP by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Thus, when seeking a private SLP you want to ensure that he or she holds a master's degree as well as licensure and certification by ASHA.

A doctoral degree is not required to practice speech therapy although some therapists will continue their education to obtain this degree (the letters Ph.D. and SLP-D signify the SLP holds a doctoral degree).

In some states it is legal for a licensed SLP to hire speech therapy assistants to assist in therapy. Each state has their own rules for requirements for what a speech therapy assistant can and can not do.


In the US, choose an SLP that is certified by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). This certification is signified by the letters CCC-SLP (e.g., M.S., CCC-SLP). The letters CCC-SLP stand for Certificate of Clinical Competency in Speech-Language Pathology.

In addition to a master's degree, certification by ASHA requires a nine month clinical fellowship/training under the supervision of a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist. This certification also signifies that the SLP has successfully passed the National Examination for Speech-Language Pathologists (NESPA).

Areas of Specialization

It is extremely important you ask your SLP about past work experience. Find out how long he/she has been practicing and what areas he/she specializes in to have better idea if the clinician you are considering can help you.

Education and experience are important factors in finding a great therapist but equally important is your SLP's commitment to training you to work with your child or loved one.

Treatment Philosophies

There are many different treatment philosophies a professional needs to consider when treating most individuals with communication disorders. For disorders which are mildly affecting a client it maybe less important for you to understand treatment philosophy.

However, if you are a parent of a child who has a moderate to severe communication disorder it becomes increasingly important that you agree with your speech therapist's treatment philosophies.

One treatment philosophy, which is of critical importance, is the therapist's ideas on involving the family in the treatment process. I suggest that you look for a therapist who uses a family-centered treatment approach to therapy.

Family -Centered Treatment is a systemic, family-based, solution-focused model for providing speech-language services in which counseling techniques are integrated into all aspects of the assessment and treatment process. The family, rather than the individual, is viewed as the unit of treatment; family members are involved in assessing their member's communication strengths and weaknesses, discussing potential interventions, and using interventions in natural contexts to create positive communicative change in their member about whom they are concerned. The speech-language pathologist and family develop a partnership that increases in strength as services are provided (Andrews & Andrews, 2000, p. 15).

In family centered therapy:

  • Your loved one will learn faster

  • Learning will be more meaningful

  • New skills learned will be demonstrated outside of therapy sooner

  • The family decides what goals are important for your loved one

  • Family input shapes the course of therapy

  • Family centered therapy incorporates you as an integral part of the therapy process

It's a good idea to hire a therapist that will train you and show you how to implement therapy techniques. This ensures greater results in shorter periods of time because your loved one's learning doesn't stop when your SLP session stops.

Ask your speech therapist how he or she feels about you observing and participating in treatment sessions on a regular basis. A great therapist will always welcome you into the therapy room so you can learn.

In summary, when looking for an SLP it is important you consider the following: level of education, certification, past work experiences, areas of specialization, and treatment philosophy. By following these simple guidelines you will likely find an SLP that works well with you and your loved one.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) can help you find a qualified professional in the US.


Andrews, J. R., Andrews, M. A. 2000. Family Based Treatment in Communication Disorders: A Systemic Approach (2nd Edition). Sandwich, IL: Janelle.

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