How To Become a Voice Therapist
“As a Vocal Therapist I treat mainly injured Singers, but other voice professionals and non-voice professionals as well,” says Amy Chapman, a Los Angeles-based Voice Therapist and Performance Specialist. “I am technically a Speech-Language Pathologist with a specialty in voice. I work with ENTs (Ear, Nose and Throat doctors), Laryngologists, Voice Coaches and Teachers.” This work consists of individualized programs created by the Voice Therapist and his or her colleagues based on each client’s different circumstances and health issues. Their goal is to help the patient recover from vocal damage and to make positive lifestyle and/or vocal behavior changes. They do this through exercises designed to stop harmful vocal behavior and improve vocal health.
Voice Therapists begin their careers as graduate students in speech pathology. Before graduation, they must complete an externship or fellowship in a local outpatient clinic or hospital. Further study is needed to become a Voice Therapist, which is more specialized. After landing a gig as a Voice Therapist, advancement comes as the practitioner gains experience; more years on the job equals higher salary. Those who work in outpatient clinics or offices can also earn higher wages by seeking employment in hospitals. After an extensive period of time in the field, some Voice Therapists may choose to seek roles in policy or administration by working as a Manager or Director of Rehabilitation. However, there is limited potential for career growth beyond the role of Voice Therapist, apart from increased wages.
Education & Training
Chapman advises, “I recommend having a solid education in not only the pre-reqs for Speech Pathology — which is [an undergraduate] major in Communication Disorders, and a masters in Communication Disorders — but an understanding of the voice from a Singer’s perspective. Take some voice lessons!” While a graduate degree from a program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology is essential for those desiring to go into practice as a Voice Therapist, aspiring health professionals who didn’t major in Communication Sciences and Disorders as undergraduates must simply fulfill certain prerequisites specified by their graduate program. Obviously, this will mean more study time to obtain a grad degree but is a good option for those who didn’t start college knowing they wanted to work in the field. Voice Therapists begin their careers by studying speech-language pathology before going on to specialize in voice therapy.
Experience & Skills
Like most Voice Therapists who focus on the special health issues affecting Singers, Chapman began her career as a performer. She says, “I started in musical theater and got my undergraduate degree from UCLA in Musical Theater. I toured, performed, and really understood what it meant to be a professional Singer before I went back to school for Speech-Pathology. It’s very important to know what a day in the life looks like on tour, on set, or in a recording studio since most professional Singers injure themselves when working.”
Voice Therapists must be compassionate and adaptable. After all, what works for one patient may not work for another. Chapman says, “It’s important to be very understanding when working with Singers. The tiniest glitch in one Singer’s voice will affect his or her performance in many ways. It might seem so unimportant to you, but it can easily be a career breaker for them. You also need to be creative. [When] working with creative people you need to be able to understand them.”
Voice Therapists typically work a regular weekly schedule with set office hours. “I see most of my patients in the office, but do plenty of on set/studio work or get flown out for performances or tours,” Chapman says. “It is important to keep an office and semi-regular hours for your patients who need regular support, as much fun as the touring sounds.”
After putting in the hours towards their graduate degree and completing their externships or fellowships at local clinics, how can an aspiring Voice Therapist land their first job? Chapman says, “Luck? Unfortunately, this is a very small niche [with] not much demand. After finishing school I did an extra fellowship where I really honed my skills as a Voice Therapist. However, I had to do plenty of non-voice related therapy before I got up and running.” Therefore it’s important to get as much real-world experience as possible and be aware that it can take time to build a career in voice therapy.
Voice Therapists earn income in two different ways: per patient, and by a regular salary. Chapman explains, “It all depends on where you work and who you are working for— there are perks to both, and negatives to both. If you want freedom, choose paid per patient. If you want security, go for the salary.”
Unions, Groups & Associations
The American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA) “is the main speech-pathology association,” Chapman says. Membership consists of Audiologists, Speech-Language Pathologists, students, and university faculty, in addition to Voice Therapists. ASHA provides networking opportunities, continuing education, advocacy and career building support.
- “Start taking an undergraduate class in Communication Disorders and Anatomy. There is so much about anatomy and physiology that people tend to overlook, but I’d say the most important part of my job is knowing how the human body works.
- Go to a local university that has a Communication Disorders major and ask to sit in on some classes or therapies. See if you like it first before putting in five years of schooling!”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I’d ask why, and how hard they are really willing to work to get there. I have a lot of horror stories while I was trying to build up my practice and skills. But if they are set on it, I’d say to learn everything they can about the voice and read up on all the old and latest literature to stay up to date.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Going by the book. If you look at a book to see what therapies or exercises would be right for someone with a particular disorder, you are going about it all wrong. You need to feel each individual person out to get a sense of what they need. It’s very individual. There is no formula.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“I think people ask a lot of good questions about my job. You don’t hear about it that often!”
What is one thing I should’ve asked which I didn’t?
“Do I feel satisfaction with treating someone? The answer is yes, very much. On the contrary, I am always disappointed if I can’t treat someone, and that forever sticks with me.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Sorry, it takes three: Creativity, persistence, relentless.”
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
“The Beatles: better vocal health and technique, obviously!”
Amy Chapman is a Vocal Therapist in Los Angeles. Before beginning her medical career, she performed professionally as a trained theatrical performer and singer for over fifteen years. She holds an undergraduate degree in Musical Theatre from UCLA and a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the Los Angeles campus of California State University. After graduation, she worked and studied with some of the nation’s top Voice Therapists as part of a prestigious post-graduate training program at the Cedars-Sinai Voice Outpatient Clinic. She specializes in performance issues, with her own musical training informing her work with Singers.