Critical Thinking is defined as:  the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

Critical thinking skills are essential in the field of Speech Language Pathology (SLP).  As a Speech Language Pathologist, your job is to evaluate the patient, determine the correct speech diagnosis and then develop a treatment plan that best rehabilitates that patient.

As you sit (sat) in your classes you take classes to build your skills in the field of SLP.   There is just not enough time to cover every treatment strategy and every form of assessment in our 6 year program as an SLP covers many areas of speech, language and swallowing.

Each class that you take in school will provide you the building blocks to understand the normal system whether it be for swallowing, articulation, reading or language acquisition.  Understand the normal system is essential to be able to assess and determine abnormalities.

Let’s look at the area of dysphagia or swallowing difficulties as an example.  During your Dysphagia class, you should learn what is normal during the swallow.  You should learn that there is lip closure, the tongue holds and manipulates the bolus for mastication and then moves the bolus back in the mouth to push it towards the pharynx, etc, etc.  By understanding what is normal and different variations of normal you can then diagnose a deficit.

Critical thinking also includes management or treatment.  You have to be able to recognize that a treatment strategy is not working and then be able to change or modify that treatment to make it work for your patient.

Critical thinking also applies to continuing education.   I’m sure nobody wants to hear this, but the learning does not end after graduation.  You will be required by the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) and your state licensure to complete a set amount of hours of continuing education.  These courses are designed to help you learn in depth more about a certain diagnosis such as apraxia or aphasia and teach you to better assess or treat a disorder.

When you pay to attend a continuing education course, you need to consider the course and what it entails.  Some courses teach therapeutic techniques that may just seem too good to be true.  This is when you can use your critical thinking skills to look at evidence to support this technique and to determine if this technique actually makes sense for assessment or treatment.

Learn about research.  Learn what types of studies are best to determine effectiveness of the study.   Read the research critically and question the research.  If it is a poorly designed study, can you actually interpret the results as successful?

Understanding the normal sequence or development of the systems used for speech, language and swallowing you will better be able to assess and diagnose the abnormal.

As you sit in class, don’t expect to learn everything you will ever need to know to work in the field of Speech Language Pathology.  Know that what you are learning is the skills that you need to learn to build your Critical Thinking skills.

There is a course designed for the dysphagia clinician call Critical Thinking in Dysphagia Management.  If you are interested please visit their Facebook Page.