Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Geriatric Counselors

Geriatric Counseling OutlookWhile the collective projection for growth in employment opportunities for all professions is 11%; the employment outlook for those desiring to be Geriatric Counselors is 29% according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In addition to this being one of the fastest growing professions in America, the factors for the marked increase in growth are substantially stable and  not subject to traditional market fluctuations.

Why the Growth?

There are multiple reasons for the positive career projections, all of which are crucial to a comprehensive understanding of your future geriatric patients and clients:

  1. The “Baby Boomer” Generation: If you’ve ever scratched your head wondering what a “Baby Boomer” actually is, here’s your answer. (And you will need to know this in your choice of Geriatric Counseling as a career!) Webster’s Dictionary defines a “Baby Boomer” as someone born in a time period designated as a “Baby Boom .” A baby boom is when economic and political factors intersect to cause a noticeably large acceleration in the birth rate. For example: When the economy is functioning poorly (i.e. The Great Depression) or the nation has experienced periods of war (i.e. World War II; Vietnam War) the birth rate drops. Families postpone having children when they experience stress from poor economic conditions; and during wartimes many men have left the home to serve in the military. When these conditions cease to exist, the birth rate increases by large margins; hence the boom in babies, so to speak. In the United States a baby boom occurred in the years 1946-1964; therefore there is a significant number of adults now approaching their elderly years. A fascinating geographical map illustrating the actual effects of the Baby Boom can be found at Governing: Baby Boomers Population Map, U.S. County Data. (The site also provides statistically-based articles on other topics vital to a career in Geriatric Counseling.) The Administration on Aging published the astounding numbers in growth: In 2009 those considered in the Geriatric phase of their lives numbered 39.6 million in the U.S. (That was 12% of the U.S. population: one in every eight Americans.) The shocking growth prediction is that by the year 2030 there will be about 72.1 million elderly persons. For this reason alone, entering the profession of Geriatric Counseling is an extremely positive, forward-looking decision. Katherine K. Wallman works for the government in the Office of Management and Budget. She says that,

“Just last year, the oldest members of the “Baby Boom” generation (that is, Americans born between 1946 and 1964) turned 65. As has been the case since the birth of this cohort, this very large generation will bring important challenges to the systems and institutions that support and enhance American life. Although many Federal agencies provide data on aspects of older Americans’ lives, it can be difficult to fit the pieces together.”

-Katherine K. Wallman

  1. New Health Care Laws: Prior to the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) insurers could decide whether or not they would cover mental health counseling. Even though the Bush Administration had passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act (MHPAEA) which required that an insurer provided mental health benefits on par with their medical coverage; the Act was not enforced. In other words, in 2008 health insurers were mandated to provide equal numbers of medical visits and mental health visits. If the plan covered 35 visits to medical doctors, the plan was required to provide 35 visits to a mental health professional. These mandates are now being enforced by the Affordable Care Act. Geriatric Counseling which used to be cost-prohibitive to senior citizens will now be offered through whatever medical coverage they have. What this means for anyone seeking a career as a Geriatric Counselor is that the law is requiring health insurers to cover visits for their insured needing or wanting elder counseling; this means that the demand for services is reliable since insurers will be offering coverage. Acquiring the necessary education and credentials for a career in Geriatric Counseling is a wise and likely prosperous choice. As one family member of an elderly person says,

“I cannot tell you how excited I am about the new laws about insurance companies having to cover counseling. My grandmother was going through problems at her housing complex and I went to take her to a counselor who specialized in older people. I couldn’t afford to pay $90 even once a month, never mind once a week! Now I can take her and her insurance will have to pay!”                  

-Jeananne McDaniels, Grandaughter

  1. Veteran Demand: According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs from August 4, 1964 – January 27, 1973 the number of military personnel deployed to Vietnam (Southeast Asia) totaled 3,403,000. The average age of infantry men serving in Vietnam was 22. These statistics translate into the fact that the average ages of those men today are from 42-72.  The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also reports that in addition to the PTSD that is suffered by many returning soldiers, these war veterans were exposed to both Agent Orange and Hepatitis C, among other environmental toxins. Therefore, it is statistically practical to project an increasing influx of elderly Vietnam Veterans into the mental health care system. Many of these men and women have already reached the time requiring Geriatric care; more will be following. Pursuing an education leading to a career in Geriatric Counseling is a sound and promising move. In the words of one veteran:

“Have I needed help mentally? That’s like askin’ me if there’s ice in Alaska. Yup. I do. And now that I know I can get it and my health insurance is footin’ the bill, I am going to.”

-Charlie Farquher, Veteran of Vietnam War; Aged 64

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“A very large number of veterans haven’t made it all the way home from the war in Southeast Asia. By conservative estimates, at least half a million Vietnam veterans still lead lives plagued by serious, war-related readjustment problems. Such problems crop up in a number of ways, varying from veteran to veteran. Flashbacks to combat… feelings of alienation or anger… depression, loneliness and an inability to get close to others… sometimes drug or alcohol problems… perhaps even suicidal feelings. The litany goes on.”

-Dr. Jim Goodwin, Psy.D.

What Types of Positions Can a Geriatric Counselor Hold?

Private Practice: Geriatric Counselors are able to go into a private practice in which they set their own schedules and perform all other business related tasks. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) recently reported that over half of practitioners do so independently. While this is definitely an option, many who specialize in the field are hard-pressed to recommend this option to anyone brand new to the field. Dr. Steven Walfish, PhD, is an Atlanta-based practitioner and president-elect of APA’s Division 42. He advises;

“Starting a practice fresh out of grad school isn't always feasible. Besides entering a difficult economy and lacking community connections, chances are you haven't yet acquired crucial financial and marketing acumen.”

-Steven Walfish, PhD

So what are other options?

Government Agencies: In response to the three factors discussed above (the Baby Boomers entering their geriatric years; the new federal mandates requiring mental health coverage; and the age of Veterans from the Vietnam war) the demand for Geriatric Counselors will reach all-time high levels from the Veteran-based agencies to positions at a local level.

Hopsitals: As more and more geriatric patients enter the healthcare system, the need for Geriatric Counselors will be expanding. Doctors determining that their elderly patients have specific conditions requiring mental health counseling will need to have resources at their disposal. This will apply both to public and private hospitals.

Medical Groups/Medical Clinics: Medical groups and clinics dealing specifically with geriatric health issues are positioned to need a Geriatric Counselor on staff or on-call.
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Ways for Geriatric Counselors to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate

Education: The first and foremost way to increase your desirability as a job candidate is to have educational degrees. In order to enter any paying position in the field of geriatrics which is covered by insurance or governed by business laws; one must possess, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree (preferably in the area of psychology.) For those job candidates with a master’s degree, the chances of being selected for a job position are even higher. A doctorate in gerontology will enable you to seek out positions which are not open to candidates with lesser degrees. It is safe to say that the more you further your education, the more desirable you will be as a job candidate.

Ways for a Geriatric Counselor to Increase His/Her Salary

Educational Advancement: If you are already employed as a Geriatric Counselor and you desire a salary increase; check with the human resources department of your employer. Quite often agencies and institutions offer incentive programs for their employees desiring to further their education. While some may even pay all or a part of tuition, others may guarantee a salary increase upon competition. If that is not possible, furthering your education on your own time will greatly increase your chances of securing a position elsewhere at a substantial increase in pay.

Specialize: Colleges and Universities offer classes, certificate and degrees to help you take your chosen profession a step further; this signals to your employer that you have specialized within the practice of gerontology. The American Psychological Association also advises that it is wise to find a “niche.” Continuing education is valuable to your employer and it is a tool which you can use when requesting a salary increase.