While the dynamic field of psychology is focused on the cognitive, behavioral, and developmental changes throughout the entire human lifespan, the branch of geropsychology specifically seeks to address the mental or behavioral health concerns of elderly adults.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), geropsychology is defined as a specialty in professional psychology that “applied the knowledge and methods of psychology to understanding and helping older persons maintain well-being, overcome problems, and achieve maximum potential later in life.” Read on to find a complete overview of the rather young subfield and to determine whether geropsychology is the right fit for your career goals.
What Do Clinical Geropsychologists Do?
As psychologists for the elderly, geropsychologists focus their clinical practice on providing counseling or therapy sessions to the geriatric population. While many may work with elderly individuals on a one-on-one basis, others specialize in providing group therapy sessions to older adults at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term residential treatment centers. Through the counseling sessions, clinical geropsychologists focus on issues relevant to the psychological, emotional, sociological, neurological, physical, and mental health issues of aging individuals. Although most geropsychology services are offered in living facilities that cater to older adults, some patients can also seek out gerontologists at private practices to receive therapy for coping with certain health concerns, the death of a loved one, or the aging process in general.
Major Areas of Research in Geropsychology
As with younger adults, there are a variety of treatable mental and emotional health disorders that specifically affect the elderly segment of the population. With older adults having the highest rates of suicide of any age group in the United States, the subfield of geropsychology is strongly focused on researching these issues to help older individuals and their families maintain optimal well-being. Through their research, geropsychologists contribute significantly to the understanding and treatment of major health concerns impacting older adults, including heart disease, cancer, dementia, arthritis, substance abuse, depression, and mental disorders. Furthermore, gerontology is also interested in furthering understanding on grief, martial/family conflict, changing roles, retirement, anxiety, family caregiving strains, and end-of-life care.
Job Outlook in the Geropsychology Field
Since geropsychology was officially accepted as a subfield by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2003, the branch of professional psychology has been undergoing tremendous amounts of growth. The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics indicates that people 65 years old and over are the fastest growing segment in the population and predicts that older adults will account for 20% of the United States’ people by 2030. As a result, opportunities in geropsychology are growing much faster than average to support their mental and behavioral health needs. With the skyrocketing demand, there is currently a dire shortage of psychologists focusing their research and practice with older adults.
If you are interested in finding a research career in a rapidly growing field and utilizing your knowledge in psychology to advance the treatment of older adult populations, you are strongly encouraged to consider pursuing a career in geropsychology. In order to help prepare for either clinical practice or research, it is typically required that geropsychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology with a concentration in aging. Since previous experience is essential for landing entry-level positions in the field, you should also complete an internship or volunteer in settings with elderly adults. Then, you will have the knowledge, skills, experience, and values needed to pursue a successful career in the thriving branch of geropsychology!
Additional Resource: Top 20 Most Innovative Graduate Psychology Degree Programs 2014