According to the Administration on Aging (Department of Health & Human Services), in 2010, there were 40 million Americans aged 65 or older. That number is expected to increase by 36% to 55 million by the year 2020. By 2030, it is projected there will be 72.1 million seniors (65+ years old) living in the U.S.
While there are many potential positive things to look forward to as we age—such as retirement or grandchildren—there also can be challenges. For those older adults who need emotional and mental support dealing with new or chronic struggles, geriatric counselors play an extremely valuable role.
Geriatric counselors help clients and patients with a variety of concerns, from mentally coping with constant physical pain and adapting to loss of independence to dealing with grief and bereavement, depression, isolation, anxiety or fear.
Aging and Depression
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while it should not be considered “a normal part of aging,” “older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression.”
- Depression is more common among individuals who are suffering from other debilitating illnesses. Approximately “80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more.”
- Older adults suffering from depression may go undiagnosed and untreated because their symptoms may be misidentified as a natural part of aging or suffering from physical illness.
Geriatric Counselors At a Glance
- Degree Level Requirements: Master’s Degree
- Licensure Requirements: Licensure required; requirements vary by state.
- Specializations: Bereavement, Chronic Illnesses, Isolation, Depression, etc.
- Median Annual Salaries: $40,080*
- Job Outlook: 37% growth from 2010 to 2020**
Career & Job Description
“Counseling can help individuals struggling with a wide array of difficulties ranging from dealing with physical pain to the loss of a spouse,” says the Aberdeen Group LLC, which offers geriatric and other forms of counseling. “Sometimes just having another person to talk with about our biggest fears, our regrets, or goals for the future can be helpful.”
Geriatric counselors or psychotherapists may work in hospitals, nursing homes and other long term care facilities, outpatient centers, for government or community-based organizations, in private practice and other settings. Since some of their clients have mobility issues, geriatric counselors may also do home visits or counseling over the phone.
Some of the roles of a geriatric counselor include:
- Diagnose mental disorders and emotional concerns.
- Encourage clients or patients to open up about their symptoms, experiences, major life changes and other pertinent details.
- Guide and facilitate decision making, coping strategies and other therapeutic practices.
- Employ specific counseling modalities (depending on counselor’s training and the client), from behavior management for Alzheimer’s to cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety and depression.
- With permission of the client, invite family members, partners and caregivers into the counseling sessions (when the counselor feels this would be beneficial).
- Refer clients to other services, resources and professionals when warranted.
- Communicate with other health care/community service providers.
Specializations / Concentrations
While there are some struggles that many older adults can relate to, each client is different. A geriatric counselor thus may explore a range of concentrations with their older clients. These include:
• Loss of independence
• Adapting to Chronic Illnesses
• Grief and Bereavement
• Alcohol and prescription drug abuse
• Managing daily routines
• Elder Abuse
• Relationships with caregivers
How Common is Depression Among Older Adults?
While older adults may be at an increased risk of depression, the majority are not depressed, states the CDC. Only around 1% (or less) to 5% of older individuals who live in the community suffer from depression.
However, 11.5% of older adults who are hospital patients and 13.5% who require assisted living suffer from depression.
Explore Your Career Path
The Educational Journey
To become a professional counselor you generally need a Master’s degree. If you prefer to gain some work experience between your undergraduate and graduate studies, there are several relevant positions obtainable with a Bachelor’s degree.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Relevant undergraduate degrees include a Bachelor’s in Psychology, Gerontology, Social Work or Human Services. Note, however, that those who decide to complete a Master’s degree to become geriatric counselors may come from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds. (Although some Master’s programs may require that you completed certain undergraduate pre-requisite courses).
- Relevant Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: Geriatric Residential Counselor, Psychiatric Technician, Home Health Care Aide (might only need high school), Substance Abuse Counselor, Social Worker Assistant, Activity Director, Research Assistant, Case Manager and more. Note that some of these positions require certification and/or previous experience.
- Master’s Degree: Relevant degrees include a Master’s in Counseling, a Master’s in Counseling Psychology, a Master’s in Community Counseling, a Master’s in Psychology with a concentration in Geropsychology or Gerontology, etc.
To provide geriatric counseling in an official capacity you must be licensed. LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor) and LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor) are among appropriate licensure options. Requirements to become licensed depend on the state you are in. The National Board for Certified Counselors’ has a directory page which links to regulating boards for each state: www.nbcc.org/directory
You might also choose to gain specialized certifications as an indicator of your expertise. A number of schools/organizations offer geriatric mental health certificate programs as valuable forms of continued education.
Other Social Service Professionals working with Geriatric Population:
• Master’s of Social Work and Licensure are both required for clinical social work.
• Median Annual Salary: $42,480 (as of May 2010)
• Job Outlook: 25% growth from 2010 to 2020
• Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling (or a related field); Licensure may be required
• Median Annual Salary: $33,880 (as of May 2012)
• Job Outlook: 28% growth from 2010 to 2020
- Reference & Data Information Provided by the Following:
- * May 2012 (for Mental Health Counselors, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- ** May 2010 (for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- † Salary data from US BLS http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
- ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm
- Other Sources/References