So, you’ve taken the plunge and started seeing a speech-language pathologist (SLP). Congrats! I would wager that, no matter what issue you’re addressing with her or him, you’ve at least had a passing thought wondering just how long this is all gonna take.

How long should speech therapy take?

Let me begin by saying that this is a question that every client should absolutely ask their SLP, and every SLP should be comfortable having this conversation. As SLPs, our mission is to help folks communicate better through the setting (and meeting) of realistic goals and objectives. It is not our mandate to keep our clients in therapy until the end of time. This is not to say that we support “quick fix” therapy, that some issues can’t take a very long time to remediate, or that we’re shooing anyone out the door. Rather, it’s our belief that realistic, achievable goals are the cornerstone of outstanding speech therapy, and you as the client have the right to ask that of your clinician.

There is no hard and fast answer to how long you (or your family member) will be “in speech.” You can, however, do some rough math (honestly, the only kind of math I can do) based on the following factors:

  • Issue You Are Addressing: You can expect that, generally speaking, the more complex the issue, the longer it will take to address it fully in therapy. For instance, issues that are defined and finite, such as such as those related to a particular event like a wedding or job interview, should be able to be addressed within a handful of sessions. Issues that are slightly more complicated, such as sound errors, will take a bit longer, while the most complicated issues will require the most time. However, regardless of the complexity of the issue, your SLP should set goals that are achievable within a reasonable amount of time (6 months or less). That is, within 6 months of initiating therapy, it is reasonable to expect measurable progress.
  • Frequency of Therapy: The more often you meet with your SLP, the quicker you will meet your goals. Again, this is a generalization, but working with an SLP on your speech-language goals is similar to working with a personal trainer at the gym . . . there is great value in being provided with feedback and coaching in real time so that you are able to stay focused on the tasks that will show you the greatest results.
  • Independent Practice: This is the single biggest factor determining how long it will take you to meet your speech-language goals. Yes, it is even more important than how often you see your SLP, or even the type of issue you’re addressing. To extend the gym metaphor a step further, if you meet with your personal trainer once a week but otherwise don’t work out at all, chances of you winning the IronMan are pretty much slim to none. If you meet with your trainer once a week and spend the other 6 days a week running, biking, and swimming everywhere you go, your chances of claiming the title are significantly increased (go you!). Speech therapy is no different. The more you practice, faster you will meet your goal.

These rules hold for people of all ages facing all different kinds of challenges. So, how long should speech therapy take? Well, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. But! By defining success in discrete, measurable terms, meeting with your SLP frequently, and holding yourself (or your family member) accountable to daily practice, you and your SLP should be able to come up with an answer that makes sense for you.