What are Geropsychologists and how to become one

Geropsychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on older adults. Mental health needs can be high. After all, this is an age group that faces a lot of loss: loss of physical ability and health, loss of lifelong relationships, loss of autonomy. It is the elderly, not the adolescent population, that is at the greatest risk of suicide.

Adults who have lifelong serious mental illnesses also carry them into their elder years; their care becomes more complex with passing years. Geropsychologists work with professionals across medical and health care disciplines.

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Psychologists, across specialties, are experts in assessment and evaluation. Those who focus on the elderly often assess for cognitive decline or dementia; these findings may be used in legal proceedings such as guardianship.

The aging brain is also the subject of a good deal of research: What factors predict healthy emotional adjustment? How can memory be strengthened? In this arena, too, psychologists are making their mark.

Professional geropsychology became an official psychological specialty in 2010. There are many professionals practicing geropsychology – that is a result of sheer need. With recognition come resources.

Geropsychology Education

One needs clinical education (broadly defined) to perform psychotherapy or do psychological evaluations. Some geropsychology studies are offered as concentrations within clinical psychology programs. A clinical program can offer preparation for both patient care and research; this is the case with PhD programs more so than PsyD programs.
A student whose interests lie solely in research or policy may find a developmental psychology program that meets his or her needs.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

The program does not necessarily need to be labeled as geropsychology. At the least, there should be research in gerontological issues and suitable mentors. The American Psychological Association has recommended that those who don’t have the opportunity to take a track specifically in geropsychology take courses in adult aging and seek experience in psycho neurological assessment; they may also seek out certificate programs.

Licensure and Certification

A clinical psychologist will need state licensing. In many cases, it will be a generic psychology license; some states recognize clinical psychology as a specialty and/ or require health service provider endorsement.

The individual will need to do a formal internship (often included as a pre-doctoral requirement) and approximately a year of additional supervised practice. The additional practice may or may not be part of a formal postdoctoral fellowship. This, however, can be an asset. The Society of Clinical Psychology maintains a list of internships ad fellowships. Individuals may also seek out the Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs. The American Psychological Association suggests the Veterans Administration as an additional resource.

Board certification indicates a level of expertise beyond what is required for licensing. The American Board of Geropsychology (ABGERO) has joined forces with the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) to offer national board certification (http://www.abpp.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3808). Candidates will need to meet general requirements for ABPP diplomate status. Additionally, they will need 2,000 hours of formal geropsychological training (internship or fellowship) or 3,000 hours of informal training. Requirements for formal geropsychology education are modest: two courses or seminars or 100 hours of continuing education. Certification candidates must have post-license experience with older adults. They will submit practice samples and attend an oral examination.

An academic or research-oriented geropsychologist may need state credentialing, depending on jurisdiction and work setting. Licensure is sometimes an option when it is not a mandate.

Geropsychology Career Outlook

The population of older adults is expected to rise in the years to 2030. Hence there is a special need for psychologists who are experts at issues affecting this population. In 2011, the American Psychological Association referred to this specialty as a bright spot with regard to employment prospects.