An Interview with a Speech-Language Pathologist

What is Speech Language Pathology?

By Sarah Fader
Published February 2, 2012

Next year, I will be pursuing speech pathology graduate programs. In the process of applying for graduate school, I’ve spoken with several professionals in the field to get a sense of what I’ll be doing as a speech-language pathologist. One of these professionals is Amanda Goodison.

Amanda is a speech-language pathologist, mother of a feisty two-year-old, blogger, amateur photographer and martial artist in Vancouver, British Columbia. When I first posted on my blog that I was inspired to pursue the field, she offered her guidance if I ever needed it. She kindly took the time to answer some of my burning questions about the field, here’s what she had to say:

1. What is speech-language pathology?

The field of speech-language pathology involves the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of communication disorders. Speech-language pathologists work with adults and children with difficulties in the following main areas: language comprehension, expressive language, social language and pragmatics, the production of speech sounds, phonation (voice), fluency, oral motor control and swallowing disorders.

2. What drew you to the field?

When I was in my first year of my undergrad program and casting around for arts classes to add to my timetable, my mom suggested I take a linguistics class, since both she and my sister had loved the classes they had taken in the subject, and I had enjoyed language studies in high school.  Only a couple weeks into my Ling 101 course, I was hooked.  I went on to take several more linguistics classes.  When I was in my third year of a four-year arts degree, I realized that a pure linguistics degree would land me one of two types of jobs: research or teaching.  Since I was interested in neither, and wanted a way to apply all this cool stuff I was learning, I looked into speech-language pathology and started collecting pre-requisites so I could apply for the masters in speech pathology.

3. Where did you go to graduate school and what was your graduate school experience like?

I did both my undergrad and my graduate degree at the University of British Columbia (UBC).  I can't tell you much about grad schools in the U.S., but there are a very limited number of schools in Canada that have the Speech and Hearing Sciences (SLP and Audiology) graduate program, so I was very lucky to get in to a program in the city in which I was already living and growing roots (i.e. dating my future husband).

UBC has since created a whole new shiny building for Rehab Sciences, but back in the day we kicked it ghetto-style and had our classes in a portable. Our class was extremely small and we became quite a tight-knit group. There was always more reading than any one person could do ever do on their own (and still eat and sleep), so we helped each other out.  Grades stopped being as important, and it became more about the learning.  Once you're in a very small program like that with only the top 15%-20% making it in, they throw out the bell curve.

In addition to classes, the two-year program includes several practical placements in different areas of the field. 

4. What do you like the most about being a speech pathologist?

I get paid to play with kids all day! I get to be creative and fun and silly, and yet there is science behind what I do, and the research backs it up. Most importantly, I make a difference in the lives of children and their families and that is incredibly rewarding.

5. Is speech-language pathology an art or a science? Please explain.

I would say it is both an art and a science. My undergrad degree was a Bachelor of Arts, and much of the background learning I needed was in arts classes like linguistics and psychology.  I did need classes such as statistics and a small amount of math as well, though.  The master's degree I received from UBC is a Master of Science, and the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences is part of Rehabilitation Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC. In my every day job, I use my arts background in linguistics and psychology, as well as a highly analytical, clinical and scientific approach.

6. Speech clients can range from young children to the elderly; tell us about the groups that you serve and the variety of services that can be offered to them.

I work with children from ages 0-5 in a clinical setting.  Depending on the needs of the child and family, we provide assessments, monitoring, parent workshops, group programs, individual or small group intervention, community workshops and consultation to other service providers.

7. In your opinion, what are the qualities needed to be a good speech therapist?

People skills, empathy, an analytical mind, a good ear for language, little-to-no squeamishness about peering into people's mouths, and above all, a sense of humor!

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Sarah Fader holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a concentration in ancient theater and philosophy. She is currently raising two children while applying to graduate school.
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