Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Gerontologists
With the death of loved ones, retirement, disease, age-related disorders, and escalating physical limitations, getting older creates unique psychological issues for senior adults. Geropsychologists are clinical psychologists who help older patients and clients by addressing issues of depression and anxiety; helping individuals cope with major life changes; and assisting the elderly in reclaiming and leading an enhanced existence.
What Type of Positions Can a Geropsychologist Hold?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population age 65 and older is expected to more than double between 2012 and 2060, from 43.1 million to 92.0 million – meaning the older population is expected to represent just over one in five residents in the United States by the end of the period – up from the previous statistics of one in seven.
The estimated future demand for this type of psychologist will outnumber the actual amount of geropsychologists available, creating plenty of excellent career opportunities for psychologists in what Kori D. Novak, Ph.D., co-principle founder of the MELLIVORA GROUP, calls a "fairly 'budding' area."
Because of the above-mentioned predictions, qualified geropsychologists and psychology graduates have a wide range of job openings to look forward to.
According to Tobi Abramson, Ph.D., Director of Mental Health Counseling at New York Institute of Technology, geropsychologists can find work by pursuing the following career paths:
- Become a counselor in a hospital, outpatient/inpatient center, and/or rehabilitation center.
- Specialize in diagnosing and treating serious mental health problems related to old age, such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
- Provide psychotherapy to individuals, groups, couples, and/or families in a community clinic setting.
- Assume a position at a diagnostic center or neurology center.
- Work in academic settings as a teacher, trainer, or supervisor of students/interns/emerging professionals.
- Become involved in advocacy efforts at the local, state, and/or national levels.
- Work out of a primary doctors' office, dental practice, or lawyer's office.
"Some psychologists work with lawyers to provide assessments of legal capacity or testify for the courts." – Tobi Abramson, Ph.D.
Geropsychologists also find employment within a:
- Veteran's Affairs Hospital Setting: VA hospitals are major leaders in supplying geropsychology jobs where a staff psychologist conducts cognitive and mood assessments, leads individual and group therapy, teaches and supervises psychology trainees, and holds consultations with families.
- Nursing Home Setting: Helping new patients and residents transition into a nursing home, geropsychologists play an important role during their "adjustment period" – helping to make a patient feel more at ease regarding his or her new surroundings and chapter of their life.
- Long-Term Care Facility Setting: In a long-term care facility, geropsychologists are responsible for coordinating events, counseling patients, and developing practices that help facilities provide better support to their residents.
- Government Setting: Geropsychologists may work for government agencies that serve the elderly. Some of their duties are to educate caregivers about dementia as well as offer grief and bereavement support. Some geropsychologists follow a behind-the-scenes career path and focus on developing health promotion programs for the government that concentrate on meeting the needs of the elderly.
- Research Setting: When employed at a research institution or center, such as the National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, geropsychologists work on developing and guiding those in evidence-based practice.
"Thinking even further out of the box – prisons, specialty psychology practices, hospices, and even religious organizations are seeing the benefit of providing specialty care to this population." – Kori D. Novak, Ph.D.
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Ways for Geropsychologists to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate
According to the National Institute on Aging, an estimated 5,000 full-time, doctoral-level geropsychologists will be needed by 2020 to accommodate the increasing healthcare demands of aging Baby Boomers.
"There will not be enough geropsychologists trained to treat the increasing demand for psychological services. Any training… expertise in this area will open up possibilities. Be creative and think outside of the box. For example, providing services in the children realm for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren is an area one would not typically think of." – Tobi Abramson, Ph.D.
To demonstrate being at the forefront of the industry, Novak suggests getting involved in professional conferences (attending and presenting papers), and continuing education – whether it's a master's degree, doctorate, or certificate program. Keeping up with policy changes on the local, state, and national level can also create a more desirable job candidate.
Attributes that employers typically look for in a geropsychologist include:
- A deep understanding of the biological, social, and psychological aspects of aging
- Knowledge of mental health disorders, their causes, and the effects on aging
- Understanding and compassion for the elderly –showing empathy for their struggles
- Patience and the ability to build a good personal relationship with the elderly
- Excellent listening skills and communication skills
- Ability to handle stressful situations
"Showing employers that you are committed to the specialty is important. This can be through additional research, volunteer work, as well as education…" – Kori D. Novak, Ph.D.
Ways for a Geropsychologist to Increase his/her Salary
With the increased availability of quality online gerontology programs and other educational opportunities, education not only increases an employee's worth to their employer but also allows a professional to command a higher salary.
Other ways for a geropsychologist to increase the potential of earning a higher salary include:
- Offering consultations to companies and agencies such as Employee Assistance Programs
- Providing case management services
- Getting published in a professional journal
- Adding speaking engagements to his or her resume
- Hosting webinars for students and graduates
- Starting a part-time or full-time private practice
Novak also suggests that geropsychologists seek out industry-specific conferences relevant to his or her field, (such as long term care, health insurance, corrections, or palliative care), and start a specialty group as a way to establish themselves as a thought leader. She also highlights cross training as a way to increase a salary, which may include incorporating religious elements (as chaplains do), becoming a medical provider (such as a CNA, LPN, or RN), or becoming a certified caregiver.
Outside of pursuing a higher education, Novak suggests putting effort into enhancing one's own marketability and PR as a way to gain new client bases, which can help boost a salary level.
"Simply telling people what you do, getting involved in the community in one way or another (church, PTA, Rotary club, volunteerism, etc.) and putting yourself out there increases your opportunities for growing the client base." – Kori D. Novak, Ph.D.
Networking Opportunities and Organizations
Playing an important role in finding a job, as well as staying relevant in the field, networking is an invaluable resource for geropsychologists.
Conferences, offered on a state, national, and international level, provide ample opportunities for geropsychologists to network. Annual conferences held by the likes of the American Society on Aging; the Gerontological Society of America; and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education connect psychology students and professionals with keynote speakers, workshops and opportunities to socialize, debate, and share ideas and research.
There are also discipline-specific conferences to consider, such as the events held by the American Psychological Association, which has an aging division.
"Many states have 'behavioral health and aging' conferences. The best way to find those is through online searches or call state agencies on aging." – Kori D. Novak, Ph.D.
"Geropsychologists can network through professional organizations, many of which hold local meet and greets, conferences, and workshops. For example, within New York State’s Psychological Association, there is the Adult Development and Aging division. This group holds educational workshops for professionals and students, and network opportunities." – Tobi Abramson, Ph.D.
Organizations geared towards geropsychologists include:
- American Society on Aging (ASA)
- Gerontological Society of America (GSA)
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- Society of Clinical Geropsychology
- International Psychogeriatric Association (IPA)
- Psychologists in Long Term Care (PLTC)
Continuing Education (CE) Sources
Beyond the state-approved continuing education (CE) programs available to psychologists, geropsychologists can also earn CE credits related to their field through the APA. In addition to providing an opportunity to develop as a professional, the following topics also help expand a geropsychologist's overall knowledge of potential patients and clients: Advance Care Planning at the End of Life; Positive Aging: An Innovative Approach to Counseling Older Adults; and Diagnosis and Treatment of Cognitive Changes at the End of Life.