What does a Speech Pathologist do?  

Written by Jocelyn Leung

Certified Practicing Speech Pathologist
B.Sc, B.Sp.Path, C.P.S.P

When hearing about speech pathology, a common follow up question is ‘What is that?’.

People may come across the term ‘speech pathologist’ (formerly ‘speech therapist’) through a health professional, personal research, or another avenue, however the question about our role can remain elusive.

The role of a speech pathologist is quite broad as we work with individuals and families across the lifespan to assess, diagnose, and provide treatment for a range of communication difficulties.

What is communication?

When explaining my role in private practice to new clients and families, I often break it down into the following main areas:

  1. Speech
    Speech can be separated into two main difficulties- articulation and phonology. Articulation refers to the motor processes involved in the production of sounds (Bauman-Waengler, 2008).  People who have an articulation disorder have difficulties forming speech sounds accurately. A lisp is an example of a common articulation disorder. In contrast, someone with a phonological disorder can accurately say sounds but may use them in the wrong place. For example, a person might say ‘dood’ for ‘good’, even if they are able to say the ‘g’ sound by itself.
  2. Language
    When exploring language, we often consider two main areas: a person’s understanding of language (receptive language) and their ability to use the language to express themselves and their needs (expressive language).  This also includes areas such as vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar.
  3. Stuttering
    Stuttering is a communication disorder that interrupts the flow of speech. It can look different depending on the individual, but often sounds like repeated sounds/words/phrases, stretching of sounds, or an involuntary pause before saying a word (block).
  4. Social communication
    This area considers how we use language for ‘social interaction, social understanding, pragmatics or language processing’ (Adams, 2005). In other words, we want to make sure that our message is delivered or received in the way that we intended. We understand that any individual’s social communication skills can be shaped and influenced by various individual and social cultural factors. As speech pathologists, we prioritise personalising support within this area to suit each person’s individual needs and social goals.
  5. Orofacial myology
    This area refers to the way that the muscles of the face and mouth move and function. Individuals presenting with a ‘tongue thrust’ often seek support within this area. A tongue thrust can also be linked to speech sound errors and swallowing difficulties and therefore needs to be treated prior to working on these areas. Therapy might involve special exercises to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, or change motor patterns.

These are just some of the many areas in which a speech pathologist may provide support. Other areas can include literacy, voice, and swallowing.

As you can see, the role of a speech pathologist is an extensive one, and the way that we work on different areas will be personalised depending on an individual’s needs.

For further information and support, please book in with one of our speech pathologists today!


Adams, C. (2005). Social communication intervention for school-age children: Rationale and description. Seminars in Speech and Language, 26(3), 181–188.
Nelson, N. (2010). Language and literacy disorders: Infancy through adolescence. Allyn & Bacon.
Bauman-Waengler, J. (2008). Articulatory and phonological impairments: A Clinical Focus (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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