Geropsychology is a specialization within psychology that focuses on mental health treatment for the elderly. Find out about job duties, employment outlook, related degree programs and licensing requirements for work in this field.
Geropsychology is a branch of psychology that studies characteristics of the aging process and helps the elderly work through neurological, biological and sociological issues related to aging. As a geropsychology professional, you'll counsel senior citizens, usually aged 65 years and older. You could help your patients cope with depression, loss of friends or family members, anxiety and diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. In geropsychology, you could work at hospitals, government or private research organizations, universities, long-term care facilities, assisted living environments, and nursing homes and in private practice.
Although career statistics specifically for geropsychologists are not collected, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the demand for psychologists in general will increase 12% from 2012-2022; employment of clinical psychologists is predicted to increase 11% during that same decade (www.bls.gov).
The American Psychological Association (APA) added that older adults were expected to make up 20% of the nation's population by 2030, which may lead to more career opportunities in the field (www.apa.org). According to the APA, geropsychologists' salaries were about equivalent with those of other psychologists working in similar settings. The BLS reported the average annual salary for psychologists was $74,310 in 2013; for clinical psychologists, it was $72,710.
To become a geropsychologist, you should have an interest in working with aging patients and you must complete a doctoral degree program. A bachelor's degree in psychology or gerontology could offer you a solid academic background before applying to a doctoral program. In a psychology program, you'll learn about counseling techniques, problem-solving methods and interpersonal communication. Gerontology programs teach you about the physiological and psychological effects of aging. Both types of programs could offer you internship opportunities that allow you to directly interact with elderly people and gain relevant experience.
In your doctoral program in psychology, you can select a concentration in geropsychology or take specific elective courses and participate in related research. Through Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs, you can build on the principles of psychology and its practical applications through directed research. Courses might include studies on how aging affects the mind and body, cognition in aging patients, intervention techniques and clinical assessment. You might work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist as you earn your doctorate degree.
Like all psychologists, gerontology counselors require state licensure for employment, but requirements vary by state. Usually, you'll need a few years of professional experience and a passing score on an examination that includes oral and written components. Once licensed, you can go into practice, assessing patients' physical, mental and emotional health, working with other medical professionals and creating rehabilitation and treatment plans. With a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in psychology, you could also work as a university professor, teaching geropsychology, or conduct independent research in the field.